The Damned 35th Anniversary Tour – The Roundhouse, London, 12/11/11

The Damned were always my favourite punk band.  They have style – in both music and image – running to shadowy depths.  Throughout their career they have consistently given us both lively anthems and more complex, evocative song structures; always interesting, melodic, and full of that delicious rush of energy that makes music so exhilarating.  I saw them twice back in Boston, MA.  First during a blizzard in 1998, etched into my memory is a blistering, soaring version of Plan 9 Channel 7 and then again on Hallowe’en in 1999 where they were completely in their element, Dave Vanian dancing into the audience singing Shadow Of Love.  So when the 35th Anniversary tour was announced earlier this year, I was thrilled.  In fact, it was the thing I’ve been looking forward to most this year.  Performing Damned Damned Damned and The Black Album, one of my all-time favourite records, in their entireties with what I hoped would be a greatest hits encore.  It did not disappoint.

Having contributed to the Pledge Music campaign for her solo record, I got there early to see Viv Albertine supporting.  She somehow manages to wrench melody from what sounds like metal scraping fiercely together (“Sometimes I love playing a Telecaster”, she comments at one point, smiling with pleasure).  Performing on her own, her songs are idiosyncratic, haunting presences and dark reflections. And she looks great too. I’m still annoyed that the tall man in front of me blocked my view when she flashed her bum ; )  She reminisces about rehearsing all the summer of ’76 in the basement of Joe Strummer’s squat, with Sid Vicious and Palmolive and coming out of it without having written a single song, “but the press still followed us wherever we went”.  In the break, I went to check out the merchandise.  The Damned’s artwork was fantastic and I so wished I had the cash for one of the purple 35th Anniversary shirts depicting a zeppelin looming over a macabre London.

Taking the stage, Captain Sensible is dressed in his Machine Gun Etiquette– cover pink feathery top and yellow-feathered trousers, with trademark red beret and white sunglasses.  “I’d like to take you back in time to 1977 when all you had in the British music scene was Little Jimmy Osmond, The Partridge Family, and 20-minute drum solos.  This is the album that changed all that!” Dave Vanian marching on as they launch into a euphoric Neat Neat Neat.  Vanian remains the very essence of cool – pale, dressed all in shiny black (gloves, shades, leather jacket and trousers), looking as if he has just materialized from an ethereal icy realm.  Unfazed by anything, he doesn’t even address the audience in the first half of the show.  He’s there to sing and sing he does.  Full, dark and rich, his powerful and expressive voice is still a delight.  One of rock’s best vocalists.  And throughout the gig, Captain Sensible wails on his instrument, a great rock guitar player.  New Rose is, of course, brilliant.  35 years hasn’t let any polish take hold, this is an assault, and LOUD too.  If anything, the sound is rawer than when I saw them 12 years ago.  “This one’s for Iggy,” Captain Sensible announces before launching into an absolutely frantic I Feel Alright.

I was surprised there was an interval but it all made sense as they came out in different garb for The Black Album; Captain Sensible now in white leopard-print trousers and sleeveless denim jacket with Union Jack patch on the breast, Vanian, fittingly, wearing a full mourning suit, and keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron in dark smoking jacket over ruffled white shirt.  Captain Sensible explaining it is now 1980 and the band find themselves in a studio in Wales [Rockfield] having lost their main songwriter, wondering if they can “come up with the goods?  Mr. Vanian has come up with some very dark songs.  Which is why we call this one (pointing at the audience) The Black Album.”  I was elated as they burst into Wait For The Blackout. To me, this is one of the best songs of all-time – riotous fun, enormously catchy – and their performance of it was spectacular, with Vanian improvising around the melody.  And then it was highlight after highlight – Captain Sensible taking the vocals for Silly Kid’s Games, an AWESOME Drinking About My Baby, Hit Or Miss and Sick Of This And That have both been stuck in my head since.  Dave Vanian addressing the audience for the first time right before Drinking, asking if anyone had been at The Roundhouse in 1976 when they played with The Troggs, “it was supposed to be The Flaming Groovies”.  But it was History Of The World Part 1 that really made my night.  This is such an underrated single, it should’ve been #1 for a very long time.  It’s epic in scope, insistent, a pervading dark atmosphere lit up by thunderous lights, grandly melodic.  Watching it live felt very much like something important was happening, which of course it was.  And soon after the truly epic came with closer Curtain Call, all 17 minutes of it.  At the beginning of the gig, when I noticed three synthesizers on stage, I nodded to myself, ‘So they’re going to play Curtain Call after all’.  Doing it justice too.  A great song, with Vanian occasionally conducting, as he’s been wont to do in this second half, through the atmospheric section.  I’ve seen a few of these ‘classic album’ gigs, but The Black Album was by far the best.

Back in good spirits for the encore, with another outfit switch.  In fact, I am genuinely surprised by the white-shirted figure with red beret and white sunglasses who walks to the center mic and then reveals himself as Dave Vanian and not Captain Sensible.  The Captain remarks “he’s given me back my cheap Primark sunglasses” as they switch shades.  And they’re taking requests!  The arena is booming with shouts.  I’m amazed that Anti-Pope is the second song that Vanian suggests, though it was a favourite of mine when I was younger, I wasn’t expecting it to be in the cards this evening.  Everyone is thrilled as they blare into Disco Man, and then simply rapturous when Love Song follows, middle-aged men racing towards the front at its opening notes, and I must admit, I was tempted to do the same myself, had I not had such a good view from where I was standing.  They huddle by the drum kit for a moment, deciding on the next number themselves, which turns out to be Eloise.  Captain Sensible “Have we got time for Happy Talk?” and then, despite deafening calls for Smash It Up (and had there not been an 11 PM curfew, I’m sure they would’ve obliged, after all, Smash It Up featured heavily in their merch – stickers and a very cool shirt featuring a comic of how to play it), they left us with Anti-Pope.  I left the venue more pleased with a gig than I’ve been in years.



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