Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Damned - Live Review

The Damned Live at The Square, Harlow, 22nd May 2009

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:

Love Song
Second Time Around
New Rose
Under The Wheels (abandoned)
Alone Again Or
Disco Man
I Fall
Dr. Woofenstein
Melody Lee
Neat Neat Neat
Dark Asteroid
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Jet-Boy Jet-Girl
Noise Noise Noise
Smash It Up



Anonymous said...

Wil is currently pondering whether Vanian's look would work for Colin. Hmm...

Piley said...

I'm wondering if the Vanian look would work for Will!!!

Furtheron said...

That first picture... love it. Look at the audience, that is what happened to my generation!!!

Mondo said...

Great, Great review P - would love to have gone, but didn't hear any whispers about it. Buzzing for the Cliffs gig though..

I won't go through my theories on the importance and influence of The Damned - I'm sure you've heard 'em before anyway - but will state they are criminally over-looked With a back catalogue that has more dynamics and depths than any other punk band, and as you say Capt. is one of the most underrated guitarists...

Piley said...

Further - yup, we's gettin old n fat m'boy!

Mondo - cheers mate... although I did TEXT you almost a WEEK prior to the gig to tip you off!! Honest!! Check out ya phone!!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great night. Looking forward to seeing them on the Motorhead tour.

Julieanddavid said...


Heff said...

I like their name. Not so much the song titles, but the band name is cool.

mrsmondo said...

Really wish Mr Mondo had looked at his phone properly!! Sounds like a great gig - don't rate Vanian's 'tache tho. Not that I'm too bothered as I've only ever had eyes for Sensible (& Mondo of course!!)

Piley said...

Anon - thanks, yes I have my tickets for the Motorhead\Damned fest too! Am interested what sort of set the Damned will do on that... will it be a 'hits' thing as its not entirely their audience? or will they go more for a 70's punky vibe for the event? Not sure how long they will get either, but hope it's at least 45 mins.

Vampira - why thank you! Good to see you, don't be a stranger!

Heff - well liking the name is a start eh?!

Mrs PM - I swear i told him! That bloke eh??! I was surprised he never replied to that message... bet it's still on there unread! I tried my best to give you an evening of peace ;-)


Nazz Nomad said...

noice noice noice review! I agree on the Errol Flynn/Clark Gable Vanian-stache (maybe with a little David Niven thrown in!).
Wow- Dr. Jeckyl... any idea on who the mystery requestor was?

But, Paul Gray is still the standard... I think it's in the way he tuned his bass more than anything. But Stu is definitely alot better than Ms. Morrison, if not quite as easy on the eyes!

Combat Plumber said...

That was a great write-up. I was there until 3am, so was Capt and Magic. Hope they play the square again.

I wonder who the person was that Dave was pleased to see? and by the way, it was my gobshite brother who started the 'soundman is a w4nker' sing-a-long

Piley said...

Nazz\CP - Still no idea who the mystery person was... Don't even know if it was a male or female guest.

Paul G is stil lthe one to beat, but I reckon Stu is doing a fine job!


Kolley Kibber said...

Love it.

My old man has seen the Damned 28 times and gave Captain Sensible a trifle once. Like you, he will love them forever.

(word verfification: "pirsings"!!)

Istvanski said...

I enjoyed reading that, loved the pics too. Sounds similar to the Brighton gig from last xmas with double drums on Asteroid. Fortunately you also got Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde thrown in. Last time I heard 'em play that one was in 1987!

Piley said...

I Should - 28 times is pretty good going! You can't leave it there tho, whats the story behind the trifle??!

Istvanski - Thanks for dropping by, and for the kind comments. I've been wondering myself when the last time they played Dr Jekyl must have been... any advance on 87??!


Kolley Kibber said...

It was a gig around Christmas, and his ex-girlfriend's Mum had bought a trifle from Sainsbury's that she thought 'smelt funny', so nobody wanted to eat it.

L took it down to the gig, got on stage, and handed the trifle to Captain Sensible, who asked L to marry him. At some point not much later in the proceedings, Sensible was wearing the trifle.

I think this is where Radiohead are going wrong. They need to loosen up a bit and get some trifle-throwing going on in their live shows.

Piley said...

Ha! Love it! Great story! How very Damned!!

Have to say though, it's one of the MANY things I love about them, they always seem to be enjoying the show too. Hate all that poncy posing from Coldplay, acting so aloof... and so boring! Liven up lads, have a trifle!


rockmother said...

Corking review Pilester. The Damned too are one of my all time favourite bands. Lucky old you - I must keep an eye out for dates x

Piley said...

RM - not just saying it, they are as good, if not better than ever at the moment. This current line up is well worth checking out.

They play a lot, keep an eye on the official site...

Also they are the support act for Motorhead's tour in November, so hows that for a '2 for 1' deal??!!