The Damned (England)

IMG_2171.JPG Live review from The Damned in Hong Kong
1. Street of Dreams
2. Disco Man
3. Wait for the Blackout
4. Love Song
5. Machine Gun Etiquette
6. Generals
7. Shadow of Love
8. Anti-Pope
9. Eloise
10. Stranger on the Town
11. Neat Neat Neat
12. Alone Again Or
13. New Rose
14. I Feel Alright
15. Wot [Captain Sensible]
16. Life Goes On
17. I Fall
18. Fan Club
19. I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
20. Ignite
21. Smash It Up

There was, predictably, a lot of anticipation that had built up in the room by the time The Damned were expected to be on, and when it seemed like they were taking longer than expected, the mood changed to a slight jitteriness…. Was there something wrong with the instruments, or equipment or the setup? Shouts of “SMASH IT UP!” started peppering the air as people started to become nervy by the wait. But, when they did finally step out on stage, the nervousness instantly seemed incredibly foolish – what were we all afraid of back two or three seconds ago? A massive cheer engulfed them as they stepped out and they launched straight into the soaring, intense Street of Dreams and then all was golden. Then there was the upbeat Disco Man followed by the mid-tempo, atmospheric Wait for the Blackout. One of the things I’ve noticed about bands that are at a stage of their career which may be termed “seasoned pros” is how they’re able to change gears almost instantly when moving from song to song. Particularly when you’re talking about a selection from a career spanning four decades that involved several stylistic changes (about-faces, really, in some cases), the difference between the songs’ styles seems even more pronounced. But the band are skilled enough to grab you by the musical scruff for every song and change the mood and the tempo completely, but in a such a commanding and effective fashion that you barely notice. The Damned belong very firmly in this category of bands, and it’s a tremendous privilege to bear witness to such utter mastery (twice, in my case).

You wouldn’t know how long they have been around were this gig the first time you heard them, though: the band was incredibly tight, and seem to have taken an ‘let’s play everything faster’ approach for this show, using faster and slightly-less elaborate arrangements for songs like Eloise and Fan Club, and it sounded great. Captain Sensible always sounded to me like he was one man who was able to simultaneously do the jobs of three guitarists, and seamlessly, and this was certainly the case here. From the moody opening of Smash It Up and Alone Again Or to the shredding of Love Song to the blistering solos of songs like Ignite, everything was done by the one man on stage and apparently flawlessly. The keyboards filled out the sound beautifully, keeping the very pacy set from feeling bare, and the drums and bass steamed along at blistering paces (and crucially, to me, perfectly in the pocket as well). However the standout to me was just how great Dave Vanian sounded; deep and resonant, his voice sounded as good or better as it ever did on any of their records, like Ian Astbury mixed with Mark Lanegan. The guitars layered around the voice to produce a really juicy sounding mix, and it added even more punch to an already great set.

The room seemed to be full of people who had seen The Damned several decades ago, some even during their nascent years, and even they appeared to be of this opinion, which really says something to how good the band are at their craft. The only song I felt fell flat a bit was Stranger on the Town which, despite the triumphant guitars, I felt was too mid-tempo and dragged on a bit. But any lost energy was injected right back into the set with a cracking rendition of Neat Neat Neat. We even got a little change of mood with Captain Sensible doing the light and poppy Wot. Even the crowd got to stretch its vocal cords a bit, as we were trained by the Captain to sing along to the the “ooohs” in Ignite. By the time the final chords of Smash it Up came crashing to earth, the band had taken us all through a tremendous journey; some of us slam-danced in the centre, others headbanged and still other alternated between a mild jig and frantic note-taking, but I think it’s probably safe to say that it was as good a show as anyone could’ve hoped for. (There’s still no Stab Your Back in that set, though, which was bittersweet to me.) Since they were here once before, I can only hope that they will come here once more and make it a hat-trick for Hong Kong; but that’s moot. What isn’t moot is that this was a first-class, tremendous show, and that we were fortunate to have seen it.

— Shashwati Kala


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Setlist:

1. Wait For the Blackout

2. Lively Arts

3. Silly Kids Games

4. New Rose

5. I Just Can’t Be Happy Today

6. Feel the Pain

7. I Fall

8. Shadow of Love

9. Love Song

10. Thrill Kill

11. 13th Floor Vendetta

12. Neat, Neat, Neat

13. History of the World (Part 1)

14. Plan 9 Channel 7

15. Fan Club

16. Ignite

17. Anti-Pope [Encore]

18. Disco Man [Encore]

19. Eloise [Encore]

20. Smash it Up [Encore]

In all the time that I’ve been writing these (what I’m pleased to call) reviews, I’ve never had to write one like this. For starters, The Damned are heroes to generations of people, including me, so it’s very hard to avoid hagiography, or nerdily comparing whether two notes in the solo were different from some outtake version or not (okay, maybe that’s just my problem). Even more crucially, They are my standard of reference for style and quality of bands…whom can I comparethem to? It’s basically just hard to say something about their music that hasn’t already been made trite (by people who’re much better writers than I, at that).

I know that there are more than a few people who didn’t come to the show on account of fear of disappointment (and after the bland Sex Pistols reunions shows and stuff, they seem to have a point). Well, first off there’s a HUGE difference; The Damned have been actively recording and touring for years now, so there’s really no question of them being rusty. Second: a little bit of research into their more recent shows would’ve dispelled any such unfounded fears. The videos from their 35thanniversary tour last year, in which they performed two full albums (“Damned Damned Damned” and “The Black Album”) in their entirety on stage, give unequivocal testament that they’re not a diminished force. Third: their lyrics haven’t dated, at all, mostly because they never chose to preen or whine in them, and neither have the aggressive-yet-fully-realised eclectic musical motifs. Combine this with their decades of being in the business and perfecting their (anti-)art, and you have to be a sucker of the fairly massive variety to have deliberately missed this show. (*Nelson Muntz laugh* HA-ha!)

The “new” people in the band are absolutely solid, especially the rhythm section of bassist Stu West and drummer Pinch (whom I’d first heard of a few years ago after I discovered his old band English Dogs, contemporaries of Charged GBH). The keyboards of Monty Oxymoron added a layer of dimension and richness to the Captain’s lone guitar; the arrangements had the admirably judicious use of keyboards that tailors songs for a live setting (in my opinion; mainly because ‘keyboards’ and ‘rock’ always make me think of Emerson, Lake and Palmer….the horror.). [Plus, he looks like Rob Tyner, and is quite the jovial spirit on stage!!] Captain Sensible was awesome as always, even though there was no breaking of guitar-necks or anything. His soaring, sinister, melodic, cheeky and all those other dichotomies that his guitar style encompasses are strong as ever, and he still looks like he’s having the time of his life on stage. Dave Vanian’s voice is startlingly well-preserved; he still sings with that paradox of sounding totally agitated yet wholly indifferent, but now with a somewhat richer voice, while prowling around the stage. The pace of the performance may be marginally slower, but the music is played at benzedrined speeds; you know how the second a truck starts whirring, you feel exactly the same way you did the last time you heard it? From start to finish, their set was like that, but in terms of impact and awesomeness (and not in my usually trivial sense of that word either).

They plunged us all headlong into the wonderful morass of sound right away with the very epic-sounding Wait For the Blackout, and continued unabated (except for the undercurrents of mocking melancholy on songs like I Just Can’t Be Happy Today or Lively Arts, for instance) for a while, with the Captain and Dave Vanian climbing on to speakers, jumping about, and generally making friends with the crowd. The whole mood on stage was one of revelling, and even more so in the crowd (if you can get a crowd here to indulge in superfluous nudity, you’ve done your job…a little Q.U.E.R.-Queer, as Billy Connolly put it.). To say it was fun to watch would be to insult the atmosphere, such was its surging joy. Before 13th Floor Vendetta, there was praise of the great Lemmy, and a request for a Jimmy Savile-style yodel (I wonder who in the crowd got that), and got things in gear again with a somewhat oriental-sounding version of their own song. A nice dose of contrast was added by the levity and sweetness of History of the World. Their first encore, Anti-Pope, was closer to the “Fiddling About Version” of it, as far as I could tell. Smash it Up was given a Bill Bailey-style faux-diddly jazz treatment, instead of the very atmospheric opening it normally has, before it, characteristically, got the crowd going with its refrain one last time (and how).

In the end, I could barely discern that it was over, such was the unflagging tempo of the show. I was completely floored, and as far as I could tell, so was everyone else there too. In the interest of ‘fairness’, I will present my litany of what niggled: they didn’t play Lovely Money, I Think I’m Wonderful or Stab Your Back. That’s it. The show left nothing wanting, and was tremendous fun. I’m glad they’re still touring and making music, ‘cause it seems that’s what they were destined to do. Finally (to them): Thank you, come again.

— Shashwati Kala

 

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Performances by The Damned (England):