The Metro
January 21st 2012

Photos by KYLEIGH PITCHER of Songbird Photography

Looking out across the crowd in the Metro, the first thing you notice is that about half the audience is or has been in a band and most of them have, at one point, covered a Damned song. Hell, you could have picked any four audience members at random and you would have had every chance of putting together a more than adequate support act. Instead, we were given the Kill City Creeps.

Now there was nothing particularly wrong with the Creeps. There just wasn't anything particularly right with them either. The smiling face of Indie rock as taught in the nation's rock and roll high schools, they probably all passed with high distinctions. They had all the appropriate guitars, clothes and riffs that Mummy and Daddy could provide. To add to the audience's woes, they employed the same inane grinning stage presence and banter made popular by the Wiggles. I'm sure that the Kill City Creeps will do very well for themselves. I wish them well but I wish they'd go and do what they do in some other universe. Preferably one that is far, far away.

Before I continue, I'd just like you to know that the Damned were great. They were. No complaints. The following abuse has nothing to do with them. But really? What was up with the fucking P.A.? People fork out a shit load of good money for gigs like this and it would be nice to hear something more than undefined bottom end sludge so heavy on sub sonic frequencies that you can physically feel the notes but not recognise them. Sonic sludge laid so thick that vocals and guitars struggle for breath. And, let's face it, the audience has come to see Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian. That would be the guitarist and the vocalist, you sound guy fuck up; the famous ones. Take the fucking socks out of your fucking ears and pay attention you god damn useless muppet. Punk without treble is no punk at all.

Clearly, there was a sweet spot for the sound in the room. It ran about six people wide down the centre of the room and probably ended up at the sound desk. I knew it was there because, when a new song began, that visibly clearly defined line of people squealed in recognition whilst the rest of the audience strained blankly to identify what song would emerge from the rumble. Clearly, something was wrong there and the management should work to sort it out if they expect paying customers to put their money on the table.

I'll take it as read that, if you've got this far into the review, you love the Damned and I don't have to give you any hard sell about their virtues. If you don't know who the Damned are, I have neither the time nor the inclination to give you a history lesson. Wiki it up. Download a few albums and come back when you know the difference between your arse and your elbow. For everyone else, I'm just going to assume previous knowledge and lay it out straight so that you'll have a fair idea of what you missed if you didn't make the show and what you might expect when the band comes to your town.

The set revolved heavily around "The Black Album" with the noticeable absence of "Curtain Call". Despite personnel changes, the band itself sounded pretty much like the Damned on that album. If you closed your eyes, it would be difficult to spot the differences. Your enjoyment of the band will therefore pretty much revolve around what you think of that trio of albums starting with "Machine Gun Etiquette" and ending with "Strawberries". If, like me, you consider that period of the Damned's career as a perfect meeting of punk and psychedelia that few will ever have the wit or skill to match, you're going to be one happy punter with bucks well spent.

It is, however, true that material from the first album (like "New Rose", "Neat, Neat, Neat", "Fan Club" and "Feel the Pain") sounds pretty much like what you'd expect the later Damned to sound like if they were covering material by the earlier Damned. Vanian croons instead of screams. Sensible's guitar is less biting and angular than Brian James' furious attack. I'm not saying that it's bad. I'm telling you that it's different. I do, however, have friends who refer to themselves as "purists". They own the same five albums and have been listening to them now for thirty five years. However, sane people can rest assured that the new Damned covering the old Damned sounds pretty fine and a hundred times better than anyone else trying to cover the Damned.

But how do the new boys work out? Well, considering they all rate as long time band members these days, you'd suspect they know their jobs by now and they do. On stage, everything runs like a well oiled machine. Drummer Pinch is powerful and professional. His work may lack the cymbal slashing idiosyncrasies of Rat Scabies but he fills the stool about as well as anyone could. Paul Gray is an equally difficult act to follow. Given the aforementioned problems with the P.A., it's difficult for me to assess Stu West's bass playing. However, I checked other performances on You Tube and his playing seemed fine with just the right kind of definition to power the bottom end along nicely. I just wish I'd been able to hear it better on the night. Monty Oxy Moron plays keyboards and, on some of the earlier material (where his playing would work more as an annoying distraction than a welcome addition), he doubles as a kind of circus barker/performing seal - pogoing around the stage and making gestures with his arms that suggest someone should throw him a fish.

In terms of presence, Captain Sensible has become the de-facto front man. He does most of the talking to the audience whilst, for the most part, Vanian just sings and bows graciously. The fact is, his voice has done far more than hold up well. For example, on "History of the World", notes you physically heard him clenching for on the initial recordings are now captured easily. Vanian remains a powerful and vaguely sinister stage presence whilst Sensible is kind of like a mate you haven't seen for years but you've bumped into at your local. It is great stage chemistry and the Damned remain the perfect pop punk band.

The set is rounded off with a fair selection of singles ("Eloise" was a standout) and other favourites. From "Machine Gun Etiquette", we got "Love Song", "Smash it Up", "Just Can't be Happy Today" as well as the left field inclusion of "Anti Pope". From "Strawberries" we got "Ignite" and from "Phantasmagoria" we got "Shadow of Love" complete with added go-go dancers. Essentially, the audience got everything it could want or would expect from a Damned show. The band remains tight and energetic. Everything is how it was intended to be. Bog is in his heaven. Blah. Blah. Blah.

"Not bad for a bunch of pensioners," as Sensible quips mid show. Not bad for anyone, really. It may not have been the best Damned show I've ever seen but, over the years, I've seen a few. I still can't think of many better ways to spend a Saturday night. If they come back, I'll see you there.





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