SHOW REVIEW: The Damned
February 11, 1998--Providence, RI (Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel)
March 21, 1998--Cambridge, MA (The Middle East)
It seems like every year a different old school punk-rock group does a reunion tour to cash in on the legend they created twenty years earlier. This year its the Damned who have hit the road with half their original lineup intact and the other half AWOL. No stranger to the reunion circuit, the Damned have toured in so many different incarnations that every original member except Dave Vanian (unless you count the Doomed tour in the late 70s) has quit or been booted out at one point. Despite their "here today, gone tomorrow" lineups of almost Intruder proportions, the Damned are still one of the most important rocknroll bands in the last 25 years and that is why this article was written.
So can Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible pull it off? Can they make it seem like 1976 or 1977 or at least 1978? Will they be dreadful with Garrie Dreadful on drums? Does Monty the Moron really shave his nipples? Will their "New Rose" still be old and wrinkled? With these questions in mind your American Correspondent set forth to investigate to give you all the scoop in time for their upcoming tour of the UK.
I thought the ideal place to pick up the trail would be at the first gig on the tour in Providence Rhode Island at a hall called Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel. After waiting around through one very good band, Tura Satana, and one very bad band, the Brooklyn Steamers, the moment of reckoning was at hand.
The first test as to whether they're still those punks we've all come to love is whether they act like punks. Did they rehearse for months like some big record company band or do they wing it and go out and rock without even rehearsing? If you guessed the former, you are either not familiar with the Damned and need to stop reading this review right now and go buy their catalogue (at least the all the albums with Captain Sensible in the fold) or you are stupid and should stick to listening to the likes of Cliff Richards.
Ok, so they are still punk, but are they still good? Are they worth spending your quid on?
Yes, Yes, Yes!!! Despite breaking in new blood on bass with Patricia Morrison (a.k.a. Mrs. Dave Vanian from Gun Club and Sisters of Mercy fame), and having not toured with Captain Sensible and without Rat Scabies in who the hell knows how long, the Damned still smashed and thrashed it up. Somehow you knew everything was going to be all right as soon as the Captain belched out "its great to back wherever we are."
They kicked the tour off with rousing versions of "Planet 9, Channel 7" and a "Dozen Girls" with the latter dedicated to Bill Clinton. They proceeded to stomp through a raw set of old favs including "Wait For The Blackout", "I Just Can't Be Happy Today", "Disco Man"(dedicated to John Travolta), "Noise, Noise, Noise" (dedicated to Rat Scabies), and "Love Song". The nuclear overload encore of "New Rose" and "Smash It Up" made up for what it lacked in predictability with radioactive decibel.
That said, it was not quite a perfect set for the Damned. There was a bit of a mid-set lag during a block of their mid-eighties material ("Elouise", "Shadow of Love", etc.) that seemed to sidetrack the band till they let loose in the encore. Monty the Moron's keyboards were too loud in the mix and many of the Captain's lick were lost because of it. Dave looked a little too much like some bonehead named Bono's Fly character with the bug sunglasses he was wearing and the Captain, who looked rather suave during the set in his Jamaican skull and bones togs during the regular set, could have used a little more (or atleast some!) clothing during the encore. All things considered, the Damned and presented a very convincing case that the naysayers of reunion tours and those favoring mandatory retirement age (a.k.a. the Johnny Ramone quota) are the ones who should be damned.
I decided to give Dave and the Captain 6 weeks to roam over the US and see how they sounded at the end of March when they came to Boston. After waiting six long weeks, the Damned finally returned and they brought a snowstorm that threatened to snow your American Correspondent in. After testing out the roads and finding them a unsafe, I figured the odds were pretty slim that I would end up driving off the road twice in the same day so I decided to go. Needless to say it was the best decision I made.
The Boston show was so much more intense than the Providence show. Somewhere along Route 66 the Damned evolved into a tight and explosive rocknroll band. No longer were Monty the Moron's keyboards drowning out the Captain blitzkrieg leads. Dave seemed to look nothing like Bono. Hell, even "Elouise" rocked! What more do you need?
Perhaps inspired from being in the home of his beloved Sam Adams lager, Captain was in a philosophical mood as he waxed about among other things, a planet overrun by Michael Jackson clones, the death of the Queen Mother, and shopping for underwear at K Mart. In between the Captain's words of wisdom, the Damned found time to deliver a set of blistering set of punk-rock chalk full of classics like "Neat, Neat, Neat", "Problem Child", and a cover of the MC5's "Looking At You." Their was no mid-set lull here folks! The set list had been reshuffled from the Providence making for a smoother flow. Captain even did some shopping since the Providence show, he sported a rather nice pink dress for the encore.
Did the Damned live up to their legend? I think so but blimey, who really cares? Legends are for the dead and the goths. The Damned are neither but if you appreciate great rocknroll, The Damned still rank among the best. That is why in the late 90s when everything left of Celine Dion passes for alternative and one hit wonder is the modus operandi of modern rock, a tour by Damned is still an event. To sum up how the new Damned compare to the old Damned, on the way out of the hall in Boston after the show I heard someone behind me say "Rat who?"