Now I know what The Damned are! The punk version of The Doors! Dave Vanian’s deep, dramatic baritone coupled with a heavy keyboard presence and good, tight guitarbassndrums. The band comes crashing into my cranium courtesy of a feature article in Creem magazine around 1979-80, coinciding with the release of their third album, Machine Gun Etiquette. I delight in reading about the antics of guitarist Captain Sensible…pretty soon “Wait for the Blackout,” on an IRS Records sampler, is the first Damned song I take notice of, with its schizomusical Britpunk-meets-Buffalo-Springfield sound. A few years later, it’s a one-two punch of a pal’s copy of Another Great Record from the Damned: The Best Of and the then-new Phantasmagoria album. And that’s about it until an MP3-era download of each of those, followed by a live show at Irving Plaza on Halloween night, 2014.
The Damned ca. 1976? (pic courtesy punkandoi.free.fr)
So now, Halloween night (well, Halloween eve), 2016, at the Gramercy Theatre on East 23rd St. “The Damned Performing a Unique 40th Anniversary Retrospective,” it’s billed. Working their way back in time, beginning with their most recent stuff including the political-climate-appropriate “Democracy?” and the spectacular “Thrill Kill” from 2001’s Grave Disorder, the current lineup (current since 2004) of Vanian, Sensible, zany bespectacled keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, bassist Stu West, and drummer Pinch whirl through their…damned beautiful rendition of Love’s “Alone Again Or” (featuring guest trumpeter Jason Crane of Rocket from the Crypt), four from Phantasmagoria (yes, the Halloweeny “Grimly Fiendish”), the single “Eloise,” and a bunch from an album that came out in late 1982 but I somehow missed – Strawberries. Now I know what three of the best damned Damned songs are: “Stranger on the Town,” “Generals,” and barn-burner sing-along “Ignite”!* And that’s only the first set. After a half-hour intermission and the Captain’s suggestion to “go have a cup of cocoa,” The Damned return…
…with a cheerful bit of pop from Strawberries called “Life Goes On,” sung by Sensible and sounding nothing like the gothic grandeur before or the frenetic punk to come. Next are rarely-noticed cuts from EPs and singles, including “Nasty,” which the band performed on the 1980s British sitcom The Young Ones (and which they introduce that way – yay Young Ones! – probably a post about that show coming soon), followed by “Wait for the Blackout” and others from the 1980 double-record The Black Album (and more Halloween just in case you forgot it’s October 30th – “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”)…and finally those punk rock classics.
Ushering in “the Machine Gun Etiquette era” are the crowd-pleasing album-opener “Love Song,” the krazy keyboards of “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today,” the ode to late-night sci-fi “Plan 9, Channel 7,” and possibly the greatest damned Damned track ever, “Smash It Up”** (both Parts 1 and 2 of course). Some back-and-forth Brit-style bickering between Captain and band, then those of us still standing (it’s getting on towards 11 at this point) are knocked silly by six songs from “the one that started it all” – 1977’s Damned Damned Damned. It’s rapid-fire-fun-fun-fun with “Fan Club,” “Neat Neat Neat,” “1 of the 2”…and finally…FINALLY…as Vanian plucks rose petals and flings them at Sensible, the corny, canned intro “Is she really going out with him?” and “New Rose” is off and running. Now I know what the first and best British punk song is. Well, I kind of already did but I have to keep the “Now I know” thing going.
After that the only way is out, out the door and away from the sweaty sea of punks, goths, hipsters, and Halloween costumes…so I don’t get to witness the encore, the whole-album-side “Curtain Call” from The Black Album, but hey, through the magic of the Internet (and blogs that are way more up-to-date than this one, oh well), now I know what I missed.
The Damned t’day! (pic courtesy sxsw.com)
And The Damned just keep on going… Next May they’re slated to play it all again as part of their “40th Anniversary U.S. Tour 2017,” at Warsaw in Brooklyn. We don’t have The Doors around anymore, but we do have The Damned…and some of the most astounding damned music anywhere.
*“Ignite” video is from LA 10/27 show (I was not there).
**“Smash It Up” video is from NY 10/29 show (I was not there either).