Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Last Saturday night, The Damned played the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie. I felt like I had won a sweepstakes or something -- The Damned were coming to my veritable backyard to play. If you don't know them, they are first wave punk heroes who have never rested on their laurels but continue to release records spanning genres from stripped-down punk to goth-tinged grandeur to the roots of rock and roll and psychedelia. This is a band that tipped their hats to their ancestors from their very first punk single, 'New Rose' (1976), an addendum to 'Leader of the Pack' by The Shangri-Las.
The Chance is a small theater that must date back to the turn of the last century. At the balcony level, there are Egyptian sarcophagi on either side of the stage and a few Art Nouveau-style decorations. It's a great venue to see a band if you want to be up close. On Saturday, there was an atmosphere of expectation throughout the place. The local opening band, White Knuckle Rodeo, delivered a surprisingly great, speedy, energetic punk rock set. Their lead singer, Cookie, working the merch table with some EPs and t-shirts after his set, spoke in reverential tones: "I can't wait to see The Damned -- those guys are my heroes."
"You're in for a treat," my wife Jayne told him with a smile.
The second opener was Electric Frankenstein. I hadn't seen them before or heard their music, but I was very pleased. Again, we were treated to a set of solid punk rock played by a bunch of guys who looked like a family of moonshiners or something (and I mean that in the best way possible). Their songs thrummed along like a well-tuned Chevy 327 doing a steady 71 m.p.h. I picked up an EF double album ('We Will Bury You') on delicious purple vinyl that consists of all covers including X, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Misfits, Fleetwood Mac (The Chain?!?), Joan Jett, etc. with a thoughtful set of liner notes that give the why and wherefore for each song.
Alright, you've been patient. Let me put you a little bit more in the scene. It's a full moon in the Hudson Valley and a cool, clear spring evening. The side door of the Chance is open for the smokers and it's letting in a sweet, fresh draft. The Damned take the stage with Captain Sensible uttering "Ladies and Gentlemen, how do?" to which Dave Vanian adds "Hey man, what's happening?" and with that, they have launched into 'Love Song' at blistering speed. I won't try to give you the set list in exact order, but the band did pepper a few other tunes from the Machine Gun Etiquette album into the first half of the set, including 'I Just Can't Be Happy Today' and the title track.
Throughout the show, the band kept up a light-hearted banter. At one point, the Captain called for his speaker stack to be turned up and Dave made some off-handed comment about Cap's ego. "More, more -- I want to hear only me!" Sensible cried out, hamming it up. Dave gestured vaguely in Cap's direction, saying something like "Yes, yes, Mephistopheles must be appeased." When they ripped through 'Neat, Neat, Neat' it was impossible not to dance -- the band itself was in constant motion throughout the show -- Vanian lunging back and forth, jumping off the drum riser backwards, swinging his legs from side to side like Chaplin, Monty Oxymoron out from behind his keyboards and jumping up and down like a mad puppet on a string (impressive!), Stu West wielding his bass like a battering ram...it was hard to snap a clear picture!
This was the fourth time I've seen The Damned (previously a couple of early 90's farewell tours at the New Ritz on 54th Street and one tour where Patricia Morrison played bass at Coney Island High in the East Village), and the first time that I heard any songs from the Phantasmagoria/Anything era played live. The band sounded absolutely at the top of their game while playing 'Eloise,' 'Alone Again Or,' and 'There'll Come A Day,' with Dave and the Captain also capably singing the horn arrangements.
The Captain made a number of pronouncements during the show: Simon Cowell should be hung by the neck until dead (sounds fair), The Damned were created in 1976 to deliver us all from the horrors of Prog Rock (amen to that, brother), and that he has a lot more hair than bassist Stu West (also true). Dave added that the Captain is still using the same dye on said hair that he started using in 1976. From the new record, the band played 'Perfect Sunday' and 'Dr. Woofenstein.' Finally, we were treated to 'New Rose,' 'Looking At You,' and for the encores, 'Jet Boy' by Elton Motello and 'Smash It Up (Pt. II).'
It was frigging glorious. The Captain introduced the band members at the end of the show, attributing only possession of red hair to Pinch rather than any particular instrument or musical talent and got a towel flung at him in response, and the whole show seemed to have ended in about 10 glorious minutes although we got about 15 songs.
After the house lights came up, Captain Sensible wandered out on stage to try and iron out a guitar issue with his tech. He chatted with fans, autographed ticket stubs, and finally eased himself off the edge of the stage to talk with us on the floor. I handed him my housekeys so he could pry the cap off his beer and asked about his recent politicking. Cap responded that the Blah! Party was on hiatus, since he had a couple of people helping him set up the events that were no longer working for him, but that he would continue to blog. He said he worried that given the current economic meltdown, anyone who could figure out the real scope of the mess was likely to get taken out by some government hit men. I suggested that the general desire of the masses not to really ever figure anything out would help the government to never have to work that hard.
Jayne shared with the Captain that it was almost exactly 20 years ago that we saw The Damned on one of our first dates. It was the Farewell Tour, I reminded him. "Ah - the Farewell Tour," he smiled. "You wore a chef's uniform but you came out for the encore naked," I added. "Do you want your money back?" he quipped. "Nah, we loved it," I returned. I think what I really meant to say was "You guys are the best -- we love you." Jayne added, "Always keep playing." He took it all in graciously, with a "Thank you -- that's so nice." A very civilized end to another perfect evening with The Damned.