The Damned

Coney Island High, New York February 7, 1998

Published February 11, 1998 6:53PM (EST)

Say, have I ever mentioned the Damned before? Maybe once or twice?
Actually, I stick a mention of them into every single review I do around
here ("The techniques that Les
developed were highly influential to guitarists of the Damned
other bands ..." "Ben
Folds Five,
despite the grave handicap of not being the Damned, has
still managed to ..."), but my editor always takes them out. "Well,
HAH!!!" I chortled, "Just try that little trick THIS time!!!" And off I sped to
club, trailing a wake of tire smoke and war whoops.

Why do I like the Damned so much? It helps that they're severely
underrated, and that I'm practically their only champion here in the
States. When they're praised at all
over here, it's in terms of "New
Rose" and a couple of other tracks on their well-known, but fairly
cruddy-sounding first album, "Damned, Damned, Damned," a '77 punk
But a couple of their more mature efforts, like 1979's "Machine Gun
Etiquette," are absolute,
button-down A+ hard-rock records, and there are enough formidable cuts
scattered across the rest of their catalog to stuff a CD box set from
top to bottom. I call as evidence the albums themselves, which nobody
over here ever seems to listen to.

Then again, somebody must, since tonight's crowd is a sardine-can
mob scene of about 500 people, in a club built for fewer than 300.
and Friday's shows were similar.

Both opening bands are long gone, the DJ music is fading, and ...
Harpo Marx coming onstage with a broom, doing the old vaudeville "guy
sweeping up the theater sneaking a turn at the piano" bit.
No, it's new keyboardist Monty the Moron. Good delivery. Must have
theater training. Joining him on bass is ... Patricia Morrison of the
Sisters of Mercy, wearing a dominatrix costume. Good cast this time,
although 1989's Damned tour featured all of the band's major lineups
(including the original Brian James one) in rotating configurations.

Guitarist Captain Sensible and vocalist Dave Vanian mount the stage.
Vanian, it appears, doesn't just dress like a vampire -- he is one. He
hasn't aged at all in the past decade. But the Captain is getting that
long-nosed, weak-chinned Dickensian face that 40ish English men
sometimes get. It'll give his zany clown persona a subtle air of pathos.

They pound into "Plan 9 Channel 7." It's dead-on. Patricia's bass
playing is a bit forced and imprecise, and the new drummer (Gary
doesn't hit the fills like he should, but the sound is all Damned,
It isn't the guitar, either ... Sensible's playing through a high-tech
pedal system that emits a constant, horrible screech whenever he does a
lead. But the sound comes together completely in the aggregate --
there's a
lot of chemistry on stage, which could account for it. But it makes you
wonder: Where is the music coming from?

Next is the poppy "Dozen Girls," from "Strawberries." And then "Neat
Neat Neat,"
from the first album. It's clear that this is going to be a
set with a bit of a playful, showbiz tinge -- sort of a Damned revue.
That's kinda the way you have to play these things, too -- it's a much
fun, much more dignified way to rehash 20-year-old punk songs than the
Pistols' reunion was. More hits follow, with a shortened "Curtain Call,"
forays into the band's Goth period with "Shadow of Love" and "Eloise,"
done with dead-on panache, and a botched and rescued "Love Song" and
Man." The Captain must be stoned out of his wig -- he keeps talking
nonsense into the microphone and flubbing intros. And young Gary the
drummer is, apparently, a yutz. Between songs he'll call out commonplace
rockisms like, "Hello, New York!!!" apparently without irony, at which
Vanian will generally shoot him a despairing look. Vanian's definitely
daddy figure of the band. He and Sensible trade chummy remarks with an
exaggerated give-and-take courtesy that suggests longtime rough feelings
newly smoothed. Since Vanian and Morrison are, reportedly, sharing a
these days, it's interesting that she keeps shooting glances over at
Sensible. What're the politics there? No time to figure it out, though,
'cause the show's over.

It was a long set, and the band is hounded back for two encores.
crowd -- and good pacing on the band's part: The first has "Smash It
Up," the song the Offspring plundered and ruined. The crowd is a sea of
upraised fists and legs, swept by a storm of flying
drink cups. Last up is the pounding "Ignite," another
"Strawberries" cut, and they play it to death, tiring everybody out. I'd
had enough by the end -- and I'd been waiting for this show for eight
years. There could've been "Rabid (Over You)" or "I Think I'm
They could've ditched "Looking at You" for "Nasty" or "Dead Beat Dance."
Patricia could've played the damn bass line correctly on "Wait For the
Blackout" (Lemme up there!); but regardless, this ... THIS was a goddamn
rock show. I'd buy a seat for the 2006 tour right now. Captain Sensible,
indeed ... Captain Senile will be more like it. Frightening how all this
punk stuff has turned out to be a game best played by geezers.

By Gavin McNett

Gavin McNett is a frequent contributor to Salon.

MORE FROM Gavin McNett

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