2016 has been a year of punk nostalgia, with mainstream media outlets giving prime coverage to the 40th anniversary of punk rock. Over the pond in England, a year-long series of concerts, film screenings, talks and exhibits, dubbed Punk.London, has been established. Even the Queen of England is giving 2016, the Year of Punk, her official blessing. While 1976 saw the release of the Sex Pistols’ debut single, “Anarchy in the U.K.,” they weren’t actually the first punk band to appear in the UK. That honor falls to The Damned who released their debut single, “New Rose,” over a month earlier. Considered one of the most influential punk groups of all time, The Damned were also one of the first UK punk bands to tour the US. Forty years on and the band are still touring and releasing new music. Acknowledging their incredible run and celebrating their 40th anniversary, The Damned delivered a stunning three-hour retrospective set to a sold-out London Royal Albert Hall this past summer. The party was expanded to the US this month with three more sold out 40th Anniversary shows, including one at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles and two at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City. Concert Addicts was lucky enough to catch the first night in New York… And what a night it was!
The Gramercy was packed and the crowd was bristling with energy and anticipation when the lights dropped and a single spot illuminated Monty Oxymoron at his keyboard as the band kicked off with the slow burning “Nature’s Dark Passion” from the 2008 album So, Who’s Paranoid. With Pinch behind the drum kit, Stu West on bass, and the ever eclectic and entertaining Captain Sensible on guitar, the song continued to swell and build as Dave Vanian’s haunting vocals were delivered from the darkness before he slowly emerged out of the shadows to a roar of approval from the crowd. They continued with “Democracy?” “Amen,” and “Thrill Kill” from Grave Disorder, setting up what would become a reverse retrospective setlist as the band played through classics and fan favorites from their entire catalog in a backwards chronological order. Captain Sensible, attacked the guitar with an energy and vigor that defied his 62 years, while Dave Vanian remained in constant motion prowling and stalking the stage as he belted out song after song with what seemed like an endless supply of power and emotion. The band was also joined at various points throughout the evening by Rocket from the Crypt’s Jason Crane who added trumpet to songs including, “Alone Again Or,” “Grimly Fiendish,” and “Eloise.” The show was divided into two sets spread out over three hours. The first set wound down with “Generals,” which was played with virtually no guitar due to technical problems before closing out on “Ignite.” After a roughly thirty minute intermission, the band came back out and picked up with “Life Goes On,” from 1982’s Strawberries. The second set delivered hit after hit with “Wait For The Blackout,” “Love Song,” “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today,” and “Smash It Up” all making an appearance. It seemed like with each subsequent song the band found another gear to ramp up the energy. The crowd was definitely responding and by the time “Neat Neat Neat” appeared late in the set, a mosh pit had broken out and a few crowd surfers made an appearance. The set ended with a storming performance of first single “New Rose,” and the band came back for a single encore, the appropriately titled “Curtain Call.”
The show was anything but a by the numbers nostalgia fest. Saturday night in New York The Damned delivered a performance that would leave many bands half their age in jealous awe. Proving they are not content to just celebrate past triumphs, The Damned have plans to record a new album early in 2017, and embark on a full North American tour in the spring. If you have the opportunity to catch one of the upcoming shows, take it! Like a fine wine, the Damned just seem to get better with age.