I am always aware when writing a review of a band with the history, legacy and fanbase of someone like The Damned that this is a band not just revered but truly loved and for decades; so please excuse my new-comer status to The Damned and their back catalogue. Firstly, when even considering this gig, what is amazing is that The Damned have seen a big resurgence in popularity as of late and the 2,000 capacity Leeds Academy is packed. Talking to some of the hardcore fans before the gig this has been slowly building back up over the last five years or so and it’s great to see. It was great hearing the stories of those fans association with The Damned and the many gigs they have attended and the adventures they’ve had over the years. Like bands such as New Model Army and The Chameleons this isn’t just a gig, this is a family gathering.
So how have The Damned even managed to survive this long, and with so many of the original line-up, when so many of their contemporaries fell by the wayside? For me it is definitely a couple of aspects and both of them are incredibly prominent in Leeds last night. The first is the rapport that the band have with their audience and the fact that they are so clearly enjoying themselves. Captain Sensible is on top form; like you would expect him to be. The Godfather of Punk is like your favourite uncle who lived through the punk wars and survived to tell the tale but wears the scars in every action that they take. The banter between Dave Vanian and Sensible especially around Sensible’s ’80s hit “Happy Talk” was as funny as ever.
The second reason is that The Damned may have been the first of all the punk bands to get a single out and was at the forefront of this scene, but they didn’t stay there. They moved with the times and for me the overwhelming feeling I got at this gig was the 1980s. The Damned, in retrospect, will always be the punk band that not only helped defined the genre but also helped define post punk and goth to an extent as well. If Captain Sensible is that Uncle, then Dave Vanian is the goth ringmaster right down to the swigging of red wine in between numbers
I last saw The Damned in about 1995 in a much smaller venue (Bradford Rios) and to be honest did not know what to expect this time round. I remember them having incredible energy all those years ago and what was evident right from the opening notes of “So Messed Up” is that time and age has not tamed them any. Nor has it tamed any of their fans, The Damned mosh pit throughout the entire gig was one of the most violent I have seen in recent times although that “help out a fellow mosher” ethos was still there. At the actual gig myself I am always going to get swept away by their more traditional punk numbers and The Damned do play plenty of their classics with “New Rose” as ripping now as it was 40 years ago, but it was some of the other songs that I went away humming along to more and perhaps made a more lasting impression.
I am not sure about you, but I love to be engaged by a band when I see them live and however good the music is bands that just stand there are never going to truly entertain me but the two hours in the company of The Damned just flew by. Vanian prowled the stage, Captain Sensible strutted and licked his way across often taking the time to go and terrorise Monty Oxymoron on keys but it was the return of Paul Gray which makes the circle complete to an extent. He was obviously super pleased to be back playing with the band and it showed. How can you fail to smile when someone is so obviously happy stood right in front of you?
If you are off to see The Damned soon, you are definitely not going to be disappointed. This is a band that still is able to perform, to engage and be at one with the audience but also still able to transform themselves and some of the highlights for me were the new songs from April’s forthcoming new album. “Standing on The Edge of Tomorrow” you may have already heard but I really loved the energy, punkiness of “Devil in Disguise” and the excellent “Evil Spirits”. The Damned: making music since 1976 and they show no signs of slowing down yet.