BBQ Nation - Metro Detroit, Michigan

THE DAMNED: 40TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW:
PUNK ROCK IS STILL GOING STRONG

DETROIT, MI – It’s hard to believe that the Damned is still around and still attracting a younger audience. Even lead singer, Dave Vanian, can’t believe it. There are an abundant amount of interviews on Youtube where all band members are being interviewed about the Punk Rock phenomenon and how it has continued from 1976 to present. The best way to really experience it is to go to one of the shows and see what it’s all about for yourself.

I look back on the manic ride and realized that I had been there at the 10th anniversary show in New York City at the Ritz back in 1989. That was in a seedy club called, The Ritz, which was at the bottom of some hotel otherwise known as Webster Hall. The address was 119 East 11th Street and going to that show was somewhat of a blur of a memory. The crowd was chaotic and Punk was still dangerous and you could feel an ugly vibe in the audience. We stood in line to get into the show and kids were dressed up like vampires and some were obviously on serious drugs. One girl in particular was dressed up like a Goth vampire and had passed out face down on the sidewalk. Her boyfriend was in a Victorian black cape with fake wax vampire teeth and was trying to kick her awake while screaming, “Wake up you stupid bitch !!” My buddy next to me said, “Don’t look at those people, just try to ignore them”. But how could I not?

That location was rumored to be the last hangout of Sid Vicious right before he killed himself, (depending on who you believe). The Ex Sex Pistol bassist used to haunt these grounds in the wake of the first onslaught of Punk. I remember that show at the Ritz as being very serious and the grim faces in the audience. I suspect many of those aging glum faces were the original New York Punks. There was no joy in that crowd but it was very memorable. One of them flung a flying cigarette butt into the eye socket of the lead singer of Das Psycho Rangers who were off doing some hokey Motley Crue rip off tune, “Who Says You Can’t Dance To Rock And Roll”. Sparks flew out of his eye and he grabbed the microphone and cussed out the whole venue with obscenities. It was crude entertainment but it was amusing. This was the 80’s. You could get away with stuff like that and nobody was ejected. The crowd was yelling back at the supporting act and you felt like you could get killed at any moment.

That 10th anniversary show was also notable for a band doing a whole album in one setting. This was done as a tribute to the fans. So the Damned opened and played, “Damned Damned Damned” in its entirety. Other bands have copied this style of promotion when they tour for special events. But this was the first time I had ever seen it done. I remember the Damned came out at Midnight and that Dave Vanian was dressed up like a vampire. I think I read somewhere that they were notorious for coming out at Midnight and it was part of their schtick. It was campy but I loved the idea. The rest of the show was a bunch of Damned classics and singles and ended with The Beatles, “Day Tripper”. Lead guitarist Captain Sensible came out on stage completely naked and played that one for the crowd and again, there was no political correctness to be had back then so of course they got away with it.

I was there too in Chicago for another Damned show at the House of Blues in 1998. The mood there was more fun and nostalgic and plus this was Chicago and they always had more of a festive atmosphere. They weren’t plagued with the drug scene like in Lower Manhattan. The people here were ready for the hits and we here to see a show. A lot had changed in ten years time and MTV had embraced post punk and new wave as had corporate radio. This broadened the audience base up a bit and this time we had people in the audience from corporate American gigs show up. This fan base had money for imported beer and free spending. Punk had grown up. But I hadn’t. I enjoyed this show in its entirety and noticed that the band actually had a light show this time around which was a first. I remember in particular the song, “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” and seeing these roving spot lights over the stage and thinking that Punk looked good with a budget. The venue was still big and it was difficult to get right up to the stage and I wanted to see them in a smaller club. But I would have to wait another ten years.

"GOOD GRIEF ARE YOU STILL LISTENING TO THAT NOISE?"

Now here it is in 2017 and I am still listening to the Damned. I just caught the recent 40th Anniversary show at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit. This is the second time that I caught them at this venue. It is the perfect small club setting and I say this with love. One of the best things about living in Detroit is being able to get up close and personal with the entertaining acts that come thru town. Unlike Chicago or New York you are not standing somewhere in the back of the club or in some nosebleed seat. You can actually get right next to the stage and almost touch the ankles of the musicians. This new show was a big deal because it celebrated 40 years of the band and they are still going strong.

This time around the audience had grown up and had gone thru its phases of Punk, Goth and rebelliousness. They were more hipster than anything and were there for the fun and frolic and not angst. Out of all the crowds I have seen in the past this was the most friendly. There is no comparing it to the one I saw in New York City back in 1989.

The music hadn’t changed much over the years. The early tracks were still recreated on stage pretty much the way they were on the record. The difference… was that the audience was eating it up and in bigger numbers. They actually enjoyed it. When you think about how many people used to show up at the early gigs in London that is somewhat mind blowing. I had read somewhere that only 40 people showed up to the original Sex Pistols gig. And in those days the bands used to play in art colleges and not clubs. In fact, I think the Roxy club was actually a storefront and there was nothing really special about it.

There is a lot of interest in the band these days because of social media. They have more exposure and seem to think they are pretty cool. That has to be the answer because there has been no new buzz coming out of the BBC and radio legend John Peel has long passed away. MTV hasn’t really done much to toot their horn and American mainstream media has pretty much ignored them since day one. Yet – kids as young as 10 years old are finding them on the web and playing them. And much to my surprise autistic kids seem to really dig them immensely. CBGB’s has long since shut their doors and the band has this dark and cool nostalgia about them that has made them a cult favorite.

The Indy documentary film, “Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead” has been released on Netflix. This tells the whole story about their euphoric rise from the streets into the pop world and the, “Anarchy in the UK” tour. They are still quirky and not your typical Punk band. In fact, lead singer, Dave Vanian claims that it was their first album was a pure punk album and that the others were variations of such. I liked them immediately because their songs were catchy, thrashy but yet had some solid melody to them. They were in fact very musical and a lot of thought went into the music. It was brilliant.

The mosh pit was alive and well and much like the way I remember it only the kids were much nicer. Almost kind. They would actually pick you up when you fell on the floor and even pat you on the back to see if you were alright. Back in the violent 80’s you might get kicked and stomped on a bit before you got back up on your feet. New York punks would actually punch you and kick you before picking you up if they bothered to do so at all.

Captain Sensible, the lead guitarist, was dressed up in his traditional punk garb with graffiti all over his clothes. The letters OAP appear on his recent garments which stands for, “Old Age Punk”. He is notorious and unpredictable and when he popped his head out the audience started cheering. Fun is about to happen and kicked into overdrive. Lead singer, Dave Vanian, comes out near the drum kit and is wearing sun glasses and sporting a grayish goatee which is something I had never seen him do before. He is always changing his appearance and this new look surprised me. They band is punching in the clock and ready to go to work.

Keyboardist, Oxy Moron, delivers the somber tones of, “Melody Lee” and it is warm and familiar. We know that in just a few seconds the song is going to rip into full new age post-punk bliss. There may not be a safe place to stand near the stage. It could erupt any moment…. And it does. The lights flash on and the crowd is a wave of motion and flaying arms and legs. I forgot how wild this could get but I proceed to dive into the action anyways. Once you made that distinction of rebel rouser then the crowd will push you back into the mosh pit for the remainder of the show. I had to raise my hand up in a surrender fashion to be let back out of it. After about 11 songs I made my way to the restroom – I am not a kid anymore.

The banter of the band and the audience was memorable. Captain Sensible told the audience about what it was like back in 1977 and how radio embraced Disco. Then he proceed to take jabs at a bearded fellow in the audience as he introduced, “Disco Man”. Again, the crowd was overly enthusiastic and the house was jumping. It is difficult to comprehend that 40 years had indeed flew by. This is somewhat confusing to the band members themselves and they talk about it on a series of new interview clips on Youtube. This is pretty insightful. The rise of the Damned in 1976 – 1977 was such that everything happened at lightning speed. There was a hit single, “New Rose” and a new album, record contract and UK and American Tour. Vanian himself said it took about 6 months to a year to completely process it all.

The Damned showed up in San Francisco which made an impression on an already outrageous city. The West Coast punk scene started to happen shortly after with the Bags, Fear, X, Circle Jerks, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys just to name a few. It was if the Damned had given these groups a reason to form and to appear on stage and create a scene. This type of indy freedom of expression was also carried out in Europe and even in Japan. It was the idea that you can take three or four chords and create your own music.

On a business front, the Damned were disruptors. They had a new approach to the record industry and it shook a lot of things up. Unlike the Sex Pistols who only made one record, (technically) the Damned kept on going and created 10 albums, 15 live albums and 33 compilations.

Go see them if you can – they are definitely worth it.

Not only are they still sounding fresh – they are inspiring to boot.

Here are the songs from the recent tour….

  1. Melody Lee
  2. Generals
  3. Disco Man
  4. I Just Can't Be Happy Today
  5. Alone Again Or
  6. Love Song
  7. Machine Gun Etiquette
  8. Street of Dreams
  9. Eloise
  10. Ignite
  11. Stranger on the Town
  12. Plan 9 Channel 7
  13. Wait for the Blackout
  14. The History of the World (Part 1)
  15. New Rose
  16. Neat Neat Neat
  17. Encore:
  18. Jet Boy, Jet Girl

    (Noise Noise Noise

  1. Smash It Up
  2. Encore 2:
  3. Nasty
  4. Fan Club
  5. Anti-Pope

 

 


ART IN DETROIT!!   

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