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Thirty years after these British punk pioneers pressed a stun gun to rock’s sagging bottom, THE DAMNED remain electric. The group played to a packed house at the House of Blues despite not releasing a studio album in more than five years. No small feat.
However, a huge crowd wasn’t a total surprise when you consider the group’s impressive discography, historical importance and continued musical credibility.
The seemingly ageless DAVE VANIAN stills looks and sounds as cool, suave and debonair as a vampiric FRED ASTAIRE. Guitarist extraordinaire CAPTAIN SENSIBLE continues to project his silly/serious persona, entertaining the crowd with madcap antics one moment then pointedly berating smokers for enriching tobacco executives at their own expense.
The energy quotient was high and the group was generally tight. “History of the World” shined, with MONTY OXYMORON’s keyboard appropriately mixed high. And PINCH did an extremely good job drumming, standing out on thumpers like “New Rose” and the anthemic “Smash it Up.” On bass, STU continued to stand in competently for PATRICIA MORRISSON, Vanian’s wife.
In addition to frenetic staples like “New Rose,” “Neat Neat Neat” and “Love Song,” the group played a nice variety of songs from their nine studio albums (excluding Music for Pleasure, Phantasmagoria and Not of This Earth).
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Absinthe” both showcased the group’s moodier and less harried side effectively. On songs like these, Vanian’s deep voice sounded most convincing. Three decades on, it’s likely a challenge for him to belt out old scorchers with the same urgency as he did when he was a teen. That said, the firepower behind juggernauts like “Antipope” and “Looking at You” remained powerful.
The group also trotted out two new tunes. “Perfect Sunday” sounded perfectly okay on first listen. The latter part of the song was more interesting, with Sensible’s guitar making some unexpected twists and turns.
“Little Miss Disaster” was more convincing. The song burst out of the gates with guitars and drums blazing. The excitement and intensity, however, proved difficult to sustain. Vanian’s vocals here, though competent, sounded like a slight letdown. But after such a hot intro it’s hard to imagine any singer keeping the excitement level at the same white-hot level.
Surprises included a surging version of “Generals” from 1982’s astonishing Strawberries and Love’s “Alone Again Or,” covered by the Damned on their mediocre 1986 effort Anything. The absence of a trumpet was especially noticeable on “Alone Again Or.” Vanian effectively improvised the trumpet solo vocally, but an actual trumpet would have sent even more shivers down the back.
Sensible paid homage to the late ARTHUR LEE, of LOVE, with some especially kind—and accurate—words, calling him “one of the greatest musicians of our generation.” It was especially poignant as the Damned were playing not just in the town where Lee found fame but also on the same stage where, in recent years, he gave some of his best shows. (Note: Love guitarist BRYAN MACLEAN wrote “Alone Again Or.”)
Musically, the only real disappointment was that some songs, like “Neat Neat Neat,” lasted too long. Improvisation and experimentation go hand in hand for this group and it’d be a pity if they stopped that. But the extended jam/mood manipulations could be done more cohesively and imaginatively.
The Damned’s attire was one of the most puzzling aspects of the evening. Sensible, Pinch and Oxymoron all uncharacteristically wore frilly outfits reminiscent of what the group wore during the mid-’80s MCA era. Pinch even wore a top hat similar to what ex-drummer RAT SCABIES wore back then.
The frilly clothing looked especially out of place on Sensible, who seems to prefer tutus, psychedelic threads, political t-shirts and hairy outfits (see far right). Vanian and Stu wore black clothing that wasn’t frilly per se but stylistically complemented the other members. Based on photos I’ve seen from other shows on this tour they presented the frilly motif there too. Why?
This much was clear: the House of Blues forbade any and all cameras, which sadly explains why I have no photos to share. But here is a recent YouTube clip from this tour that was shot from the stage.
I missed THE ADORED but in the short time that I saw THE EPOXIES, I found their new wave/futuristic punk sound to be engaging and occasionally exciting. During the Damned’s “Jet Boy Jet Girl,” which Sensible sang, Epoxies lead singer ROXY EPOXY joined Vanian on backing vox.
Separately, with the midterm elections over, it’s worth noting that across the pond Sensible recently formed The Blah! Party. As its leader, Sensible is trying to reduce voter apathy and affect policy however possible. He’s also taking full advantage of the Web’s interactivity by actively soliciting policy suggestions and updating the party’s manifesto every month. Go ahead. Tell the good Captain wot’s on your mind!