Goth-tinged punk immortals The Damned confirmed to a packed house at the TLA on mischief night that they still play with the same irresistible adrenalin-rushed quality and style as spanned across a 37 year performance history. They are currently headlining “The Hallo-East Tour” which is shared with 80’s West Coast punk veterans T.S.O.L. and the ’77-style revitalized punk band The Briefs from Seattle.
Emerging with the dark and masterfully layered song “Curtain Call,” original singer Dave Vanian (a pry from “Transylvanian”) shadowboxed with nothing more than a single electric-green floor light that illuminated his overly sinister yet striking features during the entire song. Known as being one of the first gothic clad musicians, Vanian was enduringly donned in a long black frock-coat, tie, vest, white poet’s shirt, and gloves in perfect neatness that one would pin with elegance next to Edgar Allan Poe. Short, slicked black hair akin to a pencil mustache precisely expressed Vanian’s admiration for the distinctive and superb Vincent Price.
Adding to the chaotic musical carnival that The Damned are by being a stark contrast to Vanian, the loudmouth (now) guitar player Captain Sensible came out wearing his symbolic fluffy red beret, thick-rimmed plastic sunglasses, tartan trousers and striped shirt with stenciled patches bearing the apropos words “OAP: Old Age Punk” on it. Between songs the Captain made sure to distribute his usual gyp to everyone ranging from Eric Clapton to the Pope to Eminem in true punk form.
The Damned are deservingly chaptered in the music history books for being the first U.K. punk band to release a punk single, “New Rose” (1976), punk album, Damned Damned Damned (1977), and tour the United States. With that debut album, The Damned has paved the rock-strewn U.K. punk road, as well as the goth-rock genre with the dark seed of The Black Album released in 1980. Vanian’s voice, been compared to the likes of Elvis and Morrison, is renowned for its smooth baritone and tenor range which soared while other singers of that genre snarled.
Four songs were played to an ecstatic crowd’s reaction from the iconic Black Album including, “The History of the World Part 1”, “Wait for the Blackout”, opener “Curtain Call”, and “Silly Kids Game”. Eccentric keyboardist Monty OxyMoron shined during “Stranger In Town” with a heavy-laden 70’s garage rock tone, as well as several other mini-solos throughout the night. An outstanding rendition of the punk classic “New Rose” and “Love Song” were on the top of the list of beloveds that evening. “Nasty” was hands down the most energetic and fast-tempo song out of the set and certainly well delivered in showing the band’s versatility.
The Damned have released ten albums and hold nine UK Top 40 charted singles of which Vanian and Sensible are the only remaining original members. Drummer Pinch played with ease and pure rock punch while the quintet seamlessly took us through the decades.
The crowd was consistently involved during the show, whether it been through conversation with Sensible or vocal chanting during “Ignite,” when the Captain dangled the mic over our heads baiting that tiny taste of hope for a second to sing into it. Vanian also flawlessly intertwined The Cult’s “Fire Woman” chorus briefly during “Ignite,” which was an unexpected yet saluted surprise. The band’s biggest hit, “Neat Neat Neat” was their final song of the evening, gifting both a behind-the-back guitar solo from Sensible and almost psychedelic-rock keyboard solo from Oxy.
Bassist Stu West was amongst my favorite musicians of the night (aside Vanian) with his spotless playing paired with a superb sound the TLA provided that night. I was at the TLA not even a week prior for The Misfits show and the sound quality was almost night and day. (We’re NOT talking about the different band’s songs here people, but I’ll give you a wink and a nod if you’re thinking what I’m thinking!)
Sensible made sure to state that “Eric Clapton is a wanker” before The Damned played “Smash It Up” as their encore; an homage to the late great Marc Bolan from T. Rex and who the Damned opened and toured for in 1977. Earlier that evening, Vanian made his own snarky remark before diving into “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” by dedicating it to the ever-so melancholy Morrissey [brilliant].
As we are closing in on the end of another year, The Damned has surpassed several other live shows I dubbed on my “top” list of 2014, and for that I’ll be sure to see them next time around. Pretty neat, neat, neat if you ask me.