Not having paid much attention to the advertising for the Damned’s current 35th Anniversary Tour, it was rather a pleasant surprise as Captain Sensible strolled up to the mic and announced “We’re going to take you back to 1977 with a little album called Damned Damned Damned!” For the next half-hour, Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and their latest assortment of cohorts blared out one of the defining statements of early punk rock, the first full-length from the London scene and its earliest aesthetic blueprint. Raw, feral, coursing with energy, it was a re-enactment worthy of the Civil War Society.
The Damned are now respected professional entertainers, having been at it for a long time, and the memorable songs through their long career are many. But the first album is the one you always hope they’ll dig back into during a live set, maybe slip in a third song besides “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose.” Tonight we got it all – except, what happened to “Stab Your Back”? – and it was a level of intense beyond the one they normally scare up.
(Photo gallery after the jump).
Of course it helps to start with a repertoire that hard to stand still for. It’s an album that has purity of essence. Part of punk itself was an effort to root out everything wrong with rock music and leave only what was absolutely necessary for a good time, and it would be hard to strip music down to any baser level than the one on Damned Damned Damned. But the formula is not just a process of reduction, but also of addition – they brought a rampaging rhythm section that made four on the floor sound like fifteen, and a vague sense of menace delivered via sardonic humor. It’s also aged as well as any record by the Stooges, a timeless sound that still conjures images of its era immediately.
But the success of any such re-hash is always going to rest in the fine details of the performance, and the band did an admirable job keeping the punters a half inch off the floor at all times. The band’s current lineup, which I last witnessed at House Of Blues exactly three Halloweens ago at a show which included an impromptu visit from Sky Saxon, is on a similar level to the current version of the Buzzcocks, which is to say, pretty damn hot. They played fast and tight, only occasionally letting the keyboard player near the ivories, mostly letting him hop around and holler into the mic.
They seemed even more in their element during the second set, comprised of 1980’s The Black Album, the album that’s provided the basic template for their post-punk career with a high-energy, melodic goth sound. (Certainly the keyboard player was more in his element, actually having something to do). If not as immediately pulverizing, it was nearly as compelling. The Damned wouldn’t have been much fun if they had done a Ramones and tried to remake their debut every time they went into the studio. They slid into new wave more easily than, say, the Stranglers, and managed to outgrow the sound of ’77 without selling out or going soft.
One of my favorite rock and roll stories ever has to do with Dave Vanian. A friend of ours went to visit Patricia Morrison when she and Vanian had just had their baby a few years ago, and swears that when she arrived, there was Vanian dressed in the full-on outfit, perfect hair, and ghostly makeup, in front of the house trimming the hedges. These guys know who they are, and know how to play to their strengths. Here’s to thirty-five more.
Photos by Elise Thompson