tue 21/11/2017

The Damned, Brighton Dome, 2016 | reviews, news & interviews

The Damned, Brighton Dome, 2016

The Damned, Brighton Dome, 2016

Forty years on from their arrival, can Brit punk's originators still cut it?

The band led, as ever, by the ghost of Walker from Dad's Army

The Damned peak early tonight. They never really top a tribalistic crowd sing-along to the song “Ignite” about two-thirds of the way through the evening. Dressed, as ever, like a cool rockabilly undertaker, in aviators with a black glove clutching the Shire Classic-style microphone, frontman Dave Vanian, his face painted cabaret zombie skeletal, prowls the stage, watching the crowd with a wry smile. Unreadable, his contained energy and rich bass voice is jointly at the heart of The Damned’s live appeal.

Beside him is the band’s boundless energiser, Captain Sensible, who couldn’t look more Captain Sensible tonight if he tried, in red beret, tartan bondage trousers and heavy metal cut-off denim. He enthuses the crowd of mostly original punks in their fifties and sixties, whips them up to louder “Woo hoo”s before the band explode into the climax of the song. Almost exactly 40 years after the totemic release of their first single, “New Rose”, The Damned are still capable of whipping up a storm.

Of English punk’s original holy trinity, The Damned were, arguably, the most punk in the word’s original pop cultural sense. Certainly The Sex Pistols were the catalytic game-changers and The Clash had the political fire, but The Damned were closer in scope to the New York bands who fired punk in the first place – The Ramones, New York Dolls, Richard Hell, etc – in that they adhered to the beatnik notion of the “holy goof”, rejecting consensus values in favour of something trashier, lo-fi, sillier and more rock’n’roll. Their career suffered accordingly, a catalogue of business errors and lost members, and if tonight reminds of anything, it’s that The Damned have a multiplicity of great songs, many lost amid that chaos.

Wildly coil-haired Monty Oxymoron looks like an escapee from an old-time lysergic underground bandThey start the evening playing through the whole of their debut album Damned Damned Damned which, Sensible takes pleasure in reminding us, beat the Pistols to release by six months. Drummer Pinch (Andrew Pinching) and bassist Stu West sturdily hold the backline, staying in the showbiz shadows, but wildly coil-haired keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, who looks like (and, indeed, is) an escapee from an old-time lysergic underground band, enjoys the limelight, coming to the front for an apoplectic dance during a suitably riveting take on “New Rose”.

The set borrows heavily from the 1982 album Strawberries, a favourite of mine from the brief post-punk period when the band embraced Syd Barrett-esque psychedelia. With gusto they attack gems such as the war-themed “Generals” (dedicated to “Mr Trump”), a corking take on one the band’s greatest songs, “Stranger on the Town”, boosted by local trumpet player Chris Corr doing the sax part, and, in the encore, Sensible rather tunelessly has a go at the wistful slowie “Life Goes On”.

They also play some from their most successful period, the Sensible-less, mid-Eighties, goth-pop incarnation, notably the covers “Eloise” (originally by Barry Ryan) and “Alone Again Or” (originally by Love and dedicated to Sensible’s dental hygienist). These are delivered with contagious brio that makes up for what they miss of the originals’ elegance. Also the Madness-do-Hammer-Horror of “Grimly Fiendish” is delicious, Vanian revelling in sinister couplets such as “We'll send you just where you belong/Where the children can't be found…” Something about his saturnine stage persona recalls Jim Morrison, in an alternate universe where he grew old and toured his hits.

When the encore comes it’s enjoyable but somewhat anti-climactic. They’ve played all the great stuff and we’re sent off with “Noise Noise Noise” from 1979’s Music For Pleasure, but it’s another song from that album, played slightly earlier in its full two part incarnation, that sums things up better. Starting as a tuneful Floyd-ian jam, “Smash It Up” soon explodes into one of the greatest songs to appear from punk’s storm, a petulant, anarchic, adolescent power pop assault on, well, anything normal and boring (and “Glastonbury hippies!”). It’s joyously invigorating whether you’re 16 or 65, and the same can, happily, still be said of the band who made it.

Listen to "Stranger on the Town"

Something about Vanian's saturnine stage persona recalls Jim Morrison, in an alternate universe where he grew old and toured his hits

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