The O2 Academy, Bristol is pretty much Sold Out for this gig. I don’t think you could fit more people in the venue if you tried, and The Damned… well they deserve this kind of respect, as belated as this maybe. The audience age range is amongst the most varied I have ever seen at a gig and this mirrors the bands far reaching, diverse material and longevity. Punk to Pop to Croon to Prog it’s all good (largely clean) fun.
Taking to the stage just after 9.00pm to the strains of Gustav Holt’s – The Planets (Mars, The Bringer of War) the venue is filled with tangible excitement. The line up is boosted by the reappointment of Paul Gray on bass accompanying Dave Vanian (vocals), Captain Sensible (guitar / insults), Monty Oxymoron (keyboards) & Pinch (drums). With Gray’s return the set leans more on the bands sublime and woefully overlooked classic 4th and 5th albums respectively (The Black Album and Strawberries).
Wait For The Blackout sees a lively pogo / mosh pit develop down the front and beams from the rest of the venue. The liveliness continues, naturally, with Lively Arts with no gap from the set opener and these 60 something artists are showing no signs of age at all. A slight breather then Silly Kids Games and one thinks are they actually going to treat us to The Black Album in full?
Of course not. The new single Standing On The Edge of Tomorrow is next and is far better than it should be, catchy and confident. The brooding Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde follows showcasing Vanian’s croon – then we’re treated to the guitar maestro of Sensible himself on Under The Floor Again.
Anti-Pope is as cartoon pokey as it’s ever been and So Messed Up is fast and powerful in delivery and style. New Rose is up next and one can sense most of the venue just taking the moment in – it’s The Damned playing New Rose, life just stands still for moments like this, magical stuff.
The musicianship of the whole band sees them stop Love Song after a brief bass blip from Gray during the intro and start again. Love Song has always had a grubby / beautiful feel and it is well represented tonight. Weirdly most of the classics already played are overtaken by a rousing performance of Stranger On The Town with its truly triumphant sound. Gun Fury (Of Riot Forces) underlines the sheer melodies The Damned have hidden away on Strawberries and how that album has never sold more copies I’ll never fully understand.
Eloise, the bands biggest ever single goes down well and it feels a bit strange seeing Captain Sensible play and provide backing vocals on it so well with it coming from the Jugg / Merrick (Sensible-less era) when The Damned almost topped the charts but were stopped by a cleaner from Hi-De- Hi. Likewise for Street Of Dreams which has aged well and is the best track from Phantasmagoria acknowledged by Sensible “don’t you just wish it was still the 80’s”.
Devil In Disguise sits well and suggests Evil Spirits, the forthcoming album will be worth checking out. Ignite gets a sing-along going so loud you actually, briefly, can’t hear The Damned play, more beams from attendees and the feel good factor is high. Rousing. Dozen Girls sees a group – singing in unison – “he’s alright and he don’t care, he’s got thermal underwear” and the songwriting credit of Sensible / Gray / Vanian from this real Punk / Pop gem feels just right somehow. A bulldozer speed version of Neat Neat Neat and the band exit the stage leaving the venue rattling.
The rare outing of Seagulls and just watching Gray & Sensible onstage together noodling away is beyond music. Vanian watches from the side of the stage and the smiles and vibe is one that will last for a long time in the memory. You can’t help feel in moments like this The Damned and Rat Scabies would in a musical dream world settle their differences and really complete this line-up. This said, Pinch is very able / but Scabies really is un-replaceable and Generals blasts away as the whole group take stage again.
Evil Spirts again suggests the album of the same name could and should outsell the bands latest releases post Anything. Smash It Up (Part 1) is one of those gig moments that will always be a thing of pure joy. A bouncing crowd, jostles, like the blue-print for the Never Mind The Buzzcocks television show intro and that exact point where it quietens to nothing before Vanian utters “Smash It Up” – it’s cartoon Punk heaven. Smash It Up (Part 2) and you can feel the show is over and over in some style. Exceptional stuff, except it isn’t quite over as The Damned return one more time for a Sensible led Jet Boy, Jet Girl and we’re done and off into the late night darkness, a darkness that is all the better for still having The Damned around…