Two years ago, legendary veterans of British punk, The Damned, were busy celebrating their 40th anniversary with a series of sold-out shows featuring massive retrospective setlists. While it would have been understandable for punk’s elder statesmen to have ridden off into the sunset after their anniversary celebration, it seems the Damned were not quite ready to settle into retirement… In fact, far from it. Co-founding original members Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian re-enlisted former bass player Paul Gray and returned to the studio, and earlier this year released their first album in 10 years, Evil Spirits, via Search And Destroy/Spinefarm Records. The largely crowd funded album, their 11th, and first since 2008’s So, Who’s Paranoid?, was produced by David Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti. The release has been by all accounts a massive success, garnering the band their first top 10 chart placing in the UK. Following a run of celebratory dates back home in the UK, the Damned have embarked on a fall headlining tour across North America. The tour kicked off on Oct. 17th in Boston, and is set to wrap up on Nov. 2nd in Los Angeles. We ventured to the Black Cat in Washington DC to catch the band on a Saturday night early in the tour.
The sold-out Black Cat mainstage room, jammed full of punk and goth fans spanning multiple generations, erupted as the lights dropped and the members of The Damned leisurely made their way on stage and started off the evening with “Nasty.” They continued with “Born To Kill” and “Democracy?” before dipping into the new album to play the single “Standing On The Edge of Tomorrow.” As he delivered his impressively rich full-toned vocals, pale lead singer Dave Vanian clad in a long black coat and black leather gloves, stalked the stage, often emerging from the shadows to be illuminated by an eerie green light emanating from his mic stand. Guitarist Captain Sensible, sporting his iconic red beret, provided amicable chitchat and good-natured comic relief when he wasn’t vigorously attacking his guitar. The two front-men may have garnered most of the attention via their charismatic rapport with the crowd and each other, but the rest of the band featuring Monty Oxymoron on keyboard, Pinch on drums, and touring member Jon Priestly on bass, held their own as they provided a solid sonic foundation. The setlist surprisingly leaned toward fan favorites with “Wait for the Blackout,” “Eloise,” and “Love Song,” all making appearances. Only “Devil In Disguise,” and “We’re So Nice” rounded out the songs played from Evil Spirits. Despite the focus on their classic material, the band played each song with a fresh vibrance and infectious energy that had the audience fully engaged and roaring their approval. They closed out the evening, with a storming performance of, “New Rose,” and an extended romp through “Neat Neat Neat.” Not content to call it a night, they returned to play “Curtain Call,” and “Ignite,” before calling the ladies of opening band the Darts on stage to join in and help send the fans home with a final rip-roaring cathartic singalong, on “Smash It Up.” While it’s probably cliched to use the “fine wine” analogy, damn it, they may have lost some of the anger and ferocity of their youth, but 42 years later The Damned really do seem to be getting better with age!
Phoenix and Los Angeles-based Garage-psych-rock all female quartet, the Darts opened the show. They were followed by Radkey, a trio of brothers from Missouri who played a heavy dose of punk and fuzzy garage rock delivered with catchy melodies and hooks galore.