On the back of their 40th anniversary tour and with a first album in ten years, the Tony Visconti produced ‘Evil Spirits’, due out in April, The Damned hit Bristol on pre-Valentine’s day weekend, to a packed house of punk legend lovers.
As Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ fires up, I can’t imagine The Damned ever thought they would still be at it four decades down the line. But heading into ‘Wait for the Blackout’, ‘Lively Arts’ and ‘Silly Kids Games’, the first three songs from 1980’s ‘The Black Album’, it’s clear they have lost none of their enthusiasm for performance and entertaining.
While stalwarts Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible go about their business, the trio of openers is a gift for loyal fans to welcome back bassist Paul Gray, reunited with the band once again, having played on the aforementioned album and also the classic ‘Strawberries’.
The vintage introduction to proceedings is followed by the first single from the new album ‘Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow’, a wonderfully catchy and melodic slice of punkadelia, which drops into the set with ease.
Firing on all cylinders and embracing the back catalogue, The Damned head back to the 70’s to let it be known, along with their Bristolian family, that punk is most certainly not dead. High velocity versions of ‘Anti-Pope’ and ‘So Messed Up’ make way for a highlight performance of ‘New Rose’ and a pogo worthy ‘Love Song’.
In addition to a sumptuous set list comes the visual engagement of Gothic ringmaster Dave Vanian and the absurdity of Captain Sensible. Both the unique vocalist and underrated guitarist are on fine form, along with Paul Gray and Pinch who drive the whole shebang along. Not forgetting crazy keyboardist Monty Oxymoron who dances around like a lunatic when not adding his wizardry to the party.
One indisputable crowd pleaser is the 1968 Paul Ryan hit ’Eloise’, a long-time anthem and the band’s most successful single to date. It’s strange to think of this being anybody else’s song, but The Damned have made it their own since 1985, and they deliver it with style tonight.
Another newbie is the energetic ‘Devil in Disguise’, again simply slotting into place before ‘Ignite’ and ‘Dozen Girls’ lead us to the finale. It’s a blistering version of ‘Neat Neat Neat’ which takes every punk here, back to the beginning, back to the height of the scene, a time when The Damned were no less dangerous or cool than the Sex Pistols, a time to celebrate.
The encore consists of ‘Seagulls’, ‘Generals’ and ‘Evil Spirits’, before the standard ‘Smash It Up’ from the 1979 album ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ resounds around Bristol Academy to leave with us the prototype for so much post-punk material. Finally, the band return for a filthy, fun-filled ‘Jet Boy, Jet Girl’, marking the end of a gig to savour.
I’ve seen The Damned a few times in the last 10 years and they have never disappointed. With the new album soon to be released, tour dates with The Hollywood Vampires in June, and showing no signs of slowing down, if you call yourself a fan of the best of British rock music – you must go and see The Damned, or forever be it on your conscience.
Review & Photography: Steve Johnston // Rock Music Photographer