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The Damned
The Damned
Devilish Presley

Islington Academy, London
Wednesday November 19 2008

I didn't quite believe I'd ever see this day, but...The Damned have a new album out. Now, that in itself might not seem such an unusual thing. After all, The Damned have had plenty of albums out, in the three decades since the band first formed in the punk rock chaos of the mid-seventies. But after a flurry of album-action (and, indeed, a few chart hits) in earlier days, over recent years the band's recorded output has slowed to a trickle.

The new Damned album, So, Who's Paranoid? comes seven years after the previous one, Grave Disorder, which in turn arrived six years after Not Of This Earth - which itself came a full nine years after Anything. In short, compilers of Damned discographies haven't exactly had their work cut out just recently.

There are many reasons for this sporadic release schedule, not least the band's own tendency to split up at irregular intervals, only to reform shortly afterwards in an assortment of different line-ups, with sundry acrimonious bust-ups between former members along the way.

The tendency of the music biz to regard The Damned as nothing more than knockabout punks has also, perhaps, had a hand in holding things back. Since their sojurn on MCA in the 80s, The Damned have struggled to find labels willing to bankroll their more mature excursions into psychedelic pop and melodramatic rock anthems - it's significant that the band's last three albums have all been one-off releases on indie imprints. But what the hell. The album is out at last, and here's the gig to launch it.

  Devilish Presley  

First of all, here's Devilish Presley to warm things up, and it's good to see a Damned gig without the usual no-brainer bunch of punk cliche-shouters in the support slot. Whoever booked Devilish Presley was thinking out of the punk box for once, and in a way Devilish Presley are the ideal band for a Damned gig. They're loud and fast and suitably take-no-prisoners, an approach which is just what the punks down the front tonight are looking for.

But there's also a stack of other ingredients simmering in the Devilish Presley pot. Everything from blues grit to glam swagger gets hurled into the cauldron. Jacqui Vixen pounds the bass, Johnny Navarro rips shreds from his guitar, and the drum machine is thrashed to within an inch of its life. By the end of their brief slot they've staked a claim to ownership of the stage. Always good to make the headliners work hard, I reckon, and tonight Devilish Presley do just that.

The DamnedDave Vanian is moustachioed and dapper; Captain Sensible is, as ever, the punker joker. Monty Oxymoron is the mad professor at his keyboard. Stu West, The Damned's current bassist, is the no-nonsense workmanlike one, while Pinch, on drums, goes for a touch of rock star glamour with his Green Day spiky-top and shades. That's the present incarnation of The Damned, ladies and gentlemen, and here comes the music: the old faves in unceremonious collision with the new stuff.

I dare say The Damned would be lynched by outraged fans if they didn't whack out the old punkzoid tunes like 'Neat Neat Neat' and 'Fan Club', and sure enough we get those and a few more of that ilk tonight. It says much for the band's ability to create cohesion out of diversity that The Damned can go from the crazed thrash of their earliers songs, through the punk-with-melody mid-period stuff like 'Love Song' and 'Smash It Up', to the modern, punchy pop of 'Democracy' and 'She' - and yet they always sound like The Damned.

Vanian, in particular, can belt out a pogotastic anthem without putting a hair out of place, and then, next moment, he's crooning 'Doctor Woofenstein' as if the vocal change of gear he's just executed is entirely natural.

I'm amused to see dear old Monty, who has no keyboard parts to play on the old songs, fill the gap by jumping frenziedly around as if leading a pogo-aerobics class. But, Monty's antics aside, the new songs dovetail easily with the old, and the new songs seem good to me. I'd even go so far as to say that 'Shallow Diamonds' is one of those neat (neat, neat) pop songs that The Damned have been writing for years, but for which they rarely get credit. It's certainly an instant hit tonight.

As if to emphasise just how far the band have come over the years, a spirited dash through 'New Rose', the debut single of '76, gives way to 'Dark Asteroid' - the band's latest excursion into early-Floyd psychedelia, a wibbly-wobbly world where I suspect The Damned have always been secretly most at home. The song unfurls into a lengthy, part-improvised jam, with Sensible and Monty attacking the drum kit as Pinch tries to keep control - and it's all delightfully The Damned.

Essential links:

The Damned:
Website | MySpace

Devilish Presley:
Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

 

 

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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