Flash forward a few years... I'm pretty sure the date was 11/11/06... yeah... it was because that was just three days ago... I saw The Damned Live. Yeah. Farewell hell!
Once more into the House of Blues Anaheim, go I, once more, or close the wall up with my Irish Girth! Once more from Tortilla Jo's Downtown Disney, came I, once more, filling my maw up with Mexican Tequila. This time I wasn't with Michelle, though... this time I was with Suzanne... My wife... which means I was on my best behavior. Or... no, not really, I was just a different kind of "Naughty!" Oh, yes, I said it, I went there!
A line of Security Guards were being reassured that last Wednesday had just been a dream, and not to worry. Then they looked up and saw me and scrambled like bowling pins after a kissy from Mr. Blackball!
The Damned headlined a triple bill that started with an LA Punk Band called The Adored. Southern California Punk and Hardcore has a certain style and sound to it that one has come to expect from the area (it's one thing that has made Epitaph Records so successful). However, The Adored didn't subscribe to the geographic bind, offering up a classic sounding punk that was solid East Coast, almost British in nature. The members ran the gamut of Punk Styles as if boggarted from four different clashing Punk Bands. You had your black clad, stiff and spiky haired frontman wailing out tunes in a stark, sarcastic bluntness. The Lead Guitarist wore a black suit and white shirt with his professionally cropped blonde hair and looked ready for Ed Sullivan. The Bass Player's pompadour and sideburns evoked imagery of the Rock-a-Billy infused Crooning Punk that gave rise to such bands as Social D. Lastly, the drummer looked like your average, ordinary Frat Party wallflower, pumping out the beats proficiently as you like with speed and aggression to match the music, but an almost serene look on his face, like he'd feel just as much at peace babysitting his niece and nephew.
The band's wild antics, bouncing vocalist and rapid-fire song shifting made for a surprising opening act, well worthy of a Damned show. The music itself was a throwback to the Seventies (a welcome one) with the right experimentation, coupled with that British Invasion and backing-vocals heavy Doo-Wop inspiration. While this description sounds a bit formulaic from the standpoint of 2006, I should point out that The Adored aren't kid-poseurs with Rock Star dreams. This quartet can truly rock, and they maintain their own unique brand on the genre without every resorting (in any real way) to the modern pop-punk conventions that make me choke when I hear them. So... yeah, I immediately bought their first album (A New Language) and took the time to shake the lead singer's hand after the show. YYY1/2
The Souvenir table didn't have any change to give me for the Adored CD, so I glanced over to see The Epoxies' Stop The Future album ON VINYL, and deciding that I didn't have enough vinyl at, what, a thousand records, so I bought it. Good thing too, as The Epoxies were the second big surprise of the night. Sprinting on stage in avant-garde costumes (punk clothes with tape all over including Xs on each shirt and, in one case, an X on each lens of the Lead Guitarist's Glasses) the quintet kicked off an energetic set of keyboard-infused songs. The guitarist and bassist each had a green laser light attached to their matching axes, scraping the walls and ceiling with each wild turn and jump, demanding attention almost as much as the music did. Punk, however, is an attitude, not an image. The Epoxies had that attitude down.
It would be easy to compare the sexy Goth lead singer Roxy Epoxy to Siouxsie Sioux of The Banshees with her alternating flat and dynamic low voice and athletic frame. However, while Sioux might have been an influence on Epoxy, she's hardly the mold from which the younger singer sprang. The Epoxies embrace the post-Punk Goth stylings that informed the music of the early 1980's and beyond, and they do keep a constant wall of Keyboard sound to compete with the machine-gun drumming, however, that drumming remained firing as the guitar and bass kept chugging. At least in this show, the Epoxies never seemed to forget that the keyword in post-Punk is "Punk".
On their studio albums (we bought the rest on CD after the show like good little consumers [spit]) they do have a more polished and less raw sound, possibly leading to one of their members telling me after the show that they considered this an "off night" with their distorted wildness. Still, I was impressed and told Roxy Epoxy so as she ripped open the cellophane of her Vinyl Album cover to scribble on it for us (I've never been an Autograph Hound, but, you know, what the hell, if she's offering). In short, great and surprising show. A definite echo of two decades ago, but like The Adored, The Epoxies are not a band trapped in the past without originality. This band is well worth your time to check out. YYYY
The Damned were next, and I'll be damned if they didn't steal their own damned show back from their opening damned acts. The Damned is said to be the first British Punk Band to release an album. They've been an often unsung, but also undeniable influence on Punk from both sides of the pond. Their constant evolving and learning has caused them to expand past the original staccato chanting Punk to influence hoards of others. Lead Singer Dave Vanian's (born David Letts) vampiric image and smooth baritone vocals went on to inspire Goth, Hardcore and Rock-a-billy Punk alike. His mark is written all over bands like "The Misfits" and "The Blood Junkies".
For a band with such a label as "Punk Rock" their diversity shined through musically as well as visually. As the HOBA Curtains opened the stage set was revealed to be that of a cemetery at night, complete with dry-ice "fog", an exposed corpse under a hangin' tree and the occasional broken piece of all of the above. In direct contrast strolled out the lead guitarist known as Captain Sensible in his brightly colored "New Romantic" garb, stark white hair and red beret. As the show progressed we also realized that amid the chaotic darkness of the stage there were also at least two representations of one Daffy Duck. Go figure.
Behind the stage set was a large movie screen upon which Black and White images of the more disturbing scenes from varied gothic, silent, horror, Sci-Fi and in some cases, twisted comedy movies. A partial list of these would include the original Nosferatu, (one of) the silent version(s) of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Metropolis, Night of the Living Dead, the original The Producers, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and many, many more. At one point Pinch the Drummer looked up and said "We're way behind schedule! We can't leave till this film ends!" Some of the time, audience members would come up to me and ask which film was being shown at that point. I'd like to believe this was because they recognized me from my "Byline" on this site. More likely, however, they just thought I looked like a movie nerd.
But again, this is all image (theirs, not mine). The music was what it was all about with The Damned. From the opening ripping riffs of "Thanks for the Night", it was clear that The Damned hadn't lost anything between their first appearances, their farewell tour(s) and now.
Regardless of the relative (and unfair) obscurity of The Damned (a pattern of whose history is the release of a critically acclaimed album, followed by one of medium acclaim, followed by the loss of their record deal), there are indeed "Damned Favorites". And those were performed in their entirety first and last and always. Although the Damned have evolved and no single song sounded just like their studio counterparts, it was clear that the band was hardly "sick of" their classics, and each received a quality rendition. "New Rose" reached killer heights from the opening monotone of "Is she really going out with him?" through to the last chord. The Goth anthem of "Testify" rattled the walls with its dark incantations (in kept time with the horror-movie backdrop) and "Smash It Up", complete with acoustic-esque intro (by Captain Sensible) was more rousing than I've ever heard it.
Vanian's voice is still stunning in its variability and drummer Pinch, along with Bassist Stu West, kept killer rhythm over which Monty Oxy Moron's keyboards both danced and chorded. But Captain Sensible (nee Raymond Burns) was a hell of a focus, and not just visually. Burns began as the Damned's Bass Player and moved to Keyboards and finally to lead guitar. To see him this night, I would have believed he was a virtuoso from a young age. His finger-pickin' for the lighter numbers was only exceeded by his heavy and lightening-fast strumming and fret-board walking during the more metal moments (like on their new single "Little Miss Disaster" which was an instant killer).
Captain Sensible spoke to the audience more than Vanian did, acting as a bit of a frontman amid an ensemble. Not that Dave seemed to mind. Sensible didn't exactly live up to his name as he entertained the crowd with deadpan, profane comedy and sarcasm. This culminated in his taking over lead vocals for the cracked, violent, hilarious cockney punk number "Jet Boy Jet Girl", which he introduced as being "Fucking Disgusting". Straight men, gay men, straight women, gay women all joined in singing "HE GIVES ME HEAD!" That includes me, though as far as I know, no "he" has ever given me head.
As guitarist, Sensible shined again on the Love classic "Alone Again Or", which demanded both his crystal-clear acoustic-esque picking and his incredible speed. This is especially noteworthy as this hit was recorded and released during a Captain Sensible Sabbatical. From those opening notes, however, the crowd lost it, raising the roof as if Plant and Paige had just ripped into "Stairway to Heaven". Vanian's voice was the cohesion to this song, making it not only work smoothly, but also forcing his way to being heard over the "we-know-every-word" audience.
Vanian's current look of Black Sunglasses, Black Pompadour, Black T-Shirt and Black Jeans went well with his use of the classic radio-style microphone which he crooned into with each song. Like his six-string amigo, Vanian (the one member who has never left the band) handled the band's great diversity well. His dark, vampiric crooning accented the most goth-oriented numbers, almost to an operatic crescendo at times. His punk voice handled tunes like "Love Song" and "Smash It Up" with aplomb. This made such adept "light" vocals sound so amazing in "Alone Again Or". Of course, there were those songs that mixed all of The Damned's genre collection into one melting pot... and then some.
There are certain to be those out there who believe they know exactly what to expect from a band called "The Damned". That number might even include some folks who own a Damned album or two. I would wager that for most of that crowd, there are more than enough surprises to keep everyone on their toes. Sure, this is a Punk Band, and yes, they have both defined and evolved Goth Rock, and sure, they've thundered the halls with Metal. Equally true, this isn't a band for everybody out there. They could be too dark, too heavy or too punk. But they're also not to be sold short, especially as musicians. Their softer, ballad-esque tunes are amazing and their constant testing of new sounds (how many punk bands feature a Theramin?) progresses them well beyond the usual gang of has-beens. With lyrical subjects such as romance, sex, loss, the apocalypse, government, anti-government, religion, horror and science fiction, I can't say there's something for everyone, but there's something for a lot of you... and a lot of somethings for you if you're like me!
The show ended with encores (and proof that some great guitarists really can play with their teeth and still sound good). Naturally, we walked out with our Damned merchandise (for a Liberal, I sure am a good little consumer) and a bunch of Damned music in our heads. I managed to get my wife a "Captain Sensible" shirt with the guitarist's name gracing the Coca-Cola Red Rectangle. Even better, I managed to get her the largest "baby-doll" Damned T-Shirt, which could barely contain her goodies. Man, oh, man, the words "The Damned" never looked so hot as they did... never mind... the rest of the story is mine all mine. HOT DAMNED! Four and One Half Stars out of Five for The Damned. There are has-beens and there are never-weres out there... but then there are bands like this... the always-have-beens who scarcely compromise or suck up, but always deliver the goods. The bright side to this dark night is that this wasn't a Farewell Tour. The brighter side is that nobody from the band decided to get naked and say "it's the last time you'll get to see this!" before leaving the stage. I really can't thank you guys enough for that consideration.
Let's see... 1974... Fifteen when I dyed my hair black, that makes it 1989, no, wait, I was about to turn 16 then, so it was 1990. Yeah, and the next summer was... okay, yeah, 16, almost 17... 1991. Man, I curse the day John B. discovered "Pepe Lopez" Tequila. The only thing about that era that's truly "Damned" is my memory. Hot Damn!
Dear Captain Sensible... I'm glad I never saw you Naked!
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