The Damned are one of my all time favourite bands... other bands come and go, but too many are a flash in the pan, or show promise then wuss out and\or disappoint (Kings of Leon anyone??!). But The Damned have continued to entertain, excite and genuinely interest me for three decades now, and they still remain one of the most consistent bands out there.... I mean, there can't be many bands who have been going for 30+ years, and on your way to the gig you utter this sentence "I hope they do some stuff from the new album"! But it is precisely those words that did pass my lips in the car, only to be endorsed by Mrs P and the Brownster! Y'see, the Damned's new album ('So, Who's Paranoid?'), is a bit of a revelation, and I have no doubt that were the exact same thing released by some trendy young whipper-snappers, it would be blowing the minds of the music press... but as it is, it's 'only the Damned' and so largely ignored by everyone except those in the know. Believe it or not, this album is right up there with what is almost universally considered to be their finest work (The Black Album - 1980, and Strawberries - 1982). There is a lovely 60's psychedelic feel to the tracks, and it finishes with an epic 13 minute 'space-rock' stormer (Dark Asteroid) that just about out-Hawkwinds Hawkwind!
Tonight's show is a warm-up for the new tour, a triple-header with 80's indie Welsh rockers The Alarm, and original Stiff Little Fingers guitarist, now solo artist Henry Cluney. It's an insanely small venue, more like a pub than a club (a bit like having a mini punk festival in your front room!) so the atmosphere is pretty electric. The band (minus lead-singer) push there way through the crowd and squeeze on to the tiny stage, of which 70% is already taken up with Pinch's ever expanding drum kit! They crank into the opening bars of 'Love Song', and Dave Vanian appears stage right, bang-on cue to provide the vocals. Unbelievably, Vanian is now in his 50's, but he's still as cool as they come. Tonight he's looking particularly dapper, decked out like a 1940's Hollywood film star! A cross between Errol Flynn and Clark Gable, complete with 40's cut suit, crisp white shirt, braces and a necker-chief - all topped off with a pencil-thin moustache. The hair too is very Flynn-esque, except for the addition of the white 'skunk-stripe' through it!
Unfortunately, the band are dogged by technical trouble for the early part of the show. Vanian's earpiece was obviously not working, neither were the stage monitors, making it particularly tough for them to play as a unit. The band are not slow in pointing these problems out to the sound-desk, but with precious little assistance. Understandably, as the night goes on the band start to get a little irritated at the lack of urgency to sort out these issues... I notice at least twice Captain Sensible give the guitar technician a well aimed 'boot up the arse' for his trouble, whilst he was bending down to sort out malfunctioning leads, pedals and such like! To their credit, they battle on regardless, but the problems don't get much better, The Captain's guitar dips in and out (annoyingly right at the crucial moment in the intro to 'New Rose'), Vanians vocals keeps dropping out... culminating in a real disappointment, as they have to abandon one of my favourite tracks from the new album ('Under The Wheels') within a minute. Vanian and Pinch's patience with the sound engineer runs out at this point and they both give him a bit of a verbal dressing down! The audience breaks into a impromptu "the soundman is a wanker, the soundman is a wanker, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la...". The Captain seems delighted with the chant "it's normally me" he laughs! and with perfect comedy timing, the crowd switch to the more traditional words, which brings and even bigger smirk to the face of the Sensible one!
It could be a coincidence, but having been berated by the band, and called a wanker by 200 fans seems to kick the guy into action, and things do seem to improve considerable from this point. The stage monitors never do kick in though, and they are eventually removed... which at least gives Vanian some much needed extra room.
The set-list is heavy on early material tonight, with more than half the songs coming from between 1977-1979. But these fast punky numbers are ideal for this small sweaty venue. The odd change of pace is thrown in from time to time... covers of 'Alone Again Or' and 'Eloise', as well as the excellent new album track Dr. Woofenstein, which all go down very well (and give the heaving mosh pit a much needed break to gasp for air!).
There is a truly mesmerising rendition of the aforementioned 'Dark Asteroid', which the Captain dedicates to Syd Barrett. We are also not a little surprised to see how the Captain re-creates the guitar sound at the beginning of the track.... using a empty beer can on the strings to tease out that beautifully eery sound! Incredible! By the end of the song, two mini drum kits have been installed, which Sensible and Monty (keyboard player) take centre stage with. Not to be outdone, Vanian and Stu (bass player) head for the vacant keyboards to complete the madness!
Towards the end of the set, Vanian spots someone at the side of the stage who he is obviously very pleased to see! He grins and waves manically, then points out the guest to the Captain. I've no idea who it was, but it was obviously someone of considerable influence, because when they return for the encore (well, Pinch never actually left the stage! He just stood next to his drum kit for a bit!), Vanian casually announces to the rest of the band that they have "had a request", and are doing 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde'. Now I've seen 'fake' impromptu songs in a set-list before, but this was definitely a genuine 'spur-of-the-moment' thing! You could tell this just by looking at the faces of the rest of the band... particularly Pinch! "a request?" he says exasperated "from ONE person??? Why??! When's the last time we played it??!" But it's all to no avail and they busk their way admirably through a very convincing rendition. It may have been played for one lucky person, but it made the night for many more... not least the Brownster, who having had The Black Album almost permanently on repeat for the last couple of days, had only been thinking earlier in the day how great it would be if they played that very track!! Job done Sir!!
The Captain is given the floor to perform one of his earliest solo recordings, 1978's Jet-Boy, Jet-Girl. It's a hundred times faster than the record, and is ably assisted by Dave Vanian on backing vocals! Great fun! The finale is a crunching version of 'Smash It Up' ("it's not an instruction" the Captain warns the audience, who have already been told off several times by 'the management' for being too lively!).
To sum up - an absolutely blistering 90 minutes, and quite possibly the best I've ever seen the Damned (and I've been seeing them since the 80's). Vanian is in a rich vein of form, and his vocals are top notch, the Captain remains one of the most underrated guitarists of our time, Stu West is quietly becoming the bass player to rival Damned legend Paul Gray, Pinch is a cracking drummer and Monty Oxy Moron is providing some wonderful keyboards to the set-up. The on-stage banter and jokes show these guys are all genuinely fond of each other, and that is the final ingredient that makes this current line up gel so well.
We all leave with inane grins stuck to our faces. On returning to our respective homes, both the Brownster and I immediately hit the web (or should that be the 'net-net-net'??!), desperately looking at the forthcoming tour dates, seeing where we can get out next fix!
For those interesting in that sort of thing, the set list was as follows:
Second Time Around
Under The Wheels (abandoned)
Alone Again Or
Neat Neat Neat
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Noise Noise Noise
Smash It Up