The Damned 40th Anniversary Tour At The Belasco, With Alice Bag, Thursday April 6th 2017
I am probably catching up with all these pre/post-punk acts which celebrate their 40th anniversary, after Wire at the Echoplex a week ago, I just saw another legendary punk band, the Damned, at one of their stops during their 40th anniversary US tour.
Just like Wire, the Damned may not be as famous as their counterparts such as the Sex Pistols or the Clash, but they are regarded as one of the great pioneer punk bands that influenced many other groups, from punk to hardcore and beyond. Now, with a name like theirs, while looking at the dark crowd that had lined up outside the Belasco theater on Thursday night, was I right to expect something a bit more… goth? The Damned are a bit of everything, punk-pop-glam-goth, and you probably could add a pre- in front of all of these adjectives,… this is probably why I saw in the attendance people wearing Black Flag and Bauhaus shirts side by side.
Opening for the Damned, the mighty Alice Bag and the Sissy Bears, featuring Sharif Dumani, Candace Pk Hansen, David O. Jones and Fiona Ngo, and 2 back up singers (one of them was Chelsea, Alice’s own daughter) put the room on fire with a theme of protest and rebellion… if democracy is not good for great art, we can be reassured that the present administration will provide the perfect soil for interesting art to flourish, and also the perfect theme for Alice Bag to rage against.
She had plenty to say, armed with a mic, a fearless attitude and her hot pink hair she was shaking at each of Candace Pk Hansen’s pounding drum beat, she took the time to talk between songs, first explaining she formed the Bags shortly after seeing the Damned 40 years ago. As if her ex-teacher side was showing up – she said she was a teacher for 20 years – she was regularly interrupting her fierce set with calm explanations of her songs, before resuming her punk rage. ‘This next song is about gender, about being gender fluid,’ she said before ‘XX’… ‘it’s about refusing to let others decide for us’
She raged about date rape (‘No Means No’) and even rolled her back on stage during that one, she raged about the education system… ‘That’s no education, that’s programming’ she screamed during ‘Programmed’ – and as a fellow educator I can only say, right on! – she raged about the pressure exerted by our society on young women (‘Modern Day Virgin Sacrifice’), she raged about the justice system (‘White Justice’) ‘the justice system doesn’t not work for people of color’…. She empowered everyone, redefined punk rock as a way to challenge the establishment, covered all the grounds, and even complained about bra straps as she was bouncing, head banging and shaking her entire body with a real violence.
Before ‘Reign of Fear’, she asked each of us to visualize somebody that we hate,’ Think about someone who causes you pain, now hold that thought… it could be your boss, your cousin… I will count to 3 and you will shout the person’s name’, she told us. And, as a way to exorcise the pain of this recent election, everyone ended shouting a loud ‘Trump’ making Alice smile of satisfaction. Everyone was following her, and she became even more ferocious during ‘Gluttony’ and ending a raw-energy set with a full-throated punk rage.
If Alice almost stole the show, the Damned arrived on stage like some fresh punk heroes despite having being in the business for 4 decades. Today there are only two original members left, lead singer David Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible (the Damned without Rat Scabies is like the Clash without Paul Simonon -Editor), but Monty Oxymoron on keys, Pinch on drums and Stu West on bass complete the band for a very electrifying experience. The sound was tight, the lightning white-blinding and the music was blasting in all directions… On one side, you had Captain Sensible, wearing what could be the epitome of the British punk accoutrement, patch-covered and plaid-ed, completed with a red Che Guevara beret, a colorful character cracking jokes and dropping a fuck bomb at every second while playing a mean and playful guitar, and on the other side you had dark David Vanian, elegant and gloved, looking part count Dracula part Vincent Price, while singing like a crooner ,… and the contrast works because the Damned are above all a fun band, mashing up colorful punk with handsome goth, making a goofy Captain harmonizing with the Phantom of the Opera over the sound of much guitar prowess and a spooky organ.
‘It’s very interesting to come to your wonderful country at a time like this,… when there are always interesting things happening,’ teased us Captain Sensible who basically joked all night long… They brushed their discography from their debut album ‘Damned Damned Damned’ (1977), to ‘Phantasmagoria’ (1985), keeping their compass around the late 70s to mid 80s, and even doing a few unexpected (to me) covers – again I had this preconceived goth vision in my head because of all these black hair-and-nails girls – covers such as Arthur Lee & Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’, and Elton Motello’s ‘Jet Boy, Jet Girl’, which shares the same melody with another famous French song sung by a faux punk… and that’s how I knew the song.
The sing-alongs were unavoidable during many songs, and the enthusiastic participation of the crowd, these goth punks who were moshing in the back of the theater, was something to witness. I realize I knew some songs, many songs actually, like their very famous Paul Ryan cover ‘Eloise’, and the other hits… ‘Neat Neat Neat’, ‘New Rose’, the 80s were jumping at my face with a vengeance, 40 years crashing in front of me between two Captain Sensible jokes and Vanian’s booming dark vocals… I just hope I am still as dynamic and funny as these two when I am in my 60s, and once again, as the show was going on and on, with two encores and more explosive rocking tunes, music looked like the unique answer to life’s inexorable drama, Captain Sensible was a walking comic relief, he even got very loyal to a punk debauchery tradition, and removed his pants at the end of the show, while the music got very uplifting, to say the least, I was barely touching the ground at some moment. People were pushing so much I constantly had a leg in the pit, way after the 3-songs-you-are-out rule, despite the security guard’s severe look. What could I do? The women around me were so enthusiastic, and so roomy.
And did I hear that right? The Damned are working on new music, I think Captain Sensible said this at one point. They recorded their last album, ‘So, Who’s Paranoid?’ in 2008 and these veterans even opened a PledgeMusic page to finance the new one, using today’s tools for their old school’s DIY ethic, while carrying the torch of punk rock, And, at a time when you won’t see a Sex Pistols reunion unless they get Rolling Stones money (said Steve Jones), the 40th anniversary tour of the Damned is definitively the best bargain around.
I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
Alone Again Or (Love cover)
Machine Gun Etiquette
Street of Dreams
Eloise (Paul Ryan cover)
Stranger on the Town
Plan 9 Channel 7
Wait for the Blackout
The History of the World (Part 1)
Neat Neat Neat
Jet Boy, Jet Girl (Elton Motello cover)
Noise Noise Noise
Smash It Up