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Saturday, May 16, 2009

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO-THE DAMNED, LIVE AT THE FILLMORE

The Damned: one of the seminal bands in the original UK punk rock movement, the first to release a single, and one of the longest-lived of their breed. I've greatly enjoyed them since first encountering their music in 1985 — I admit being late to the party — and have seen them perform live six times between 1988 and the present, but one thing that needs to be said about the Damned is that when they're firing on all cylinders there are few bands, live or in the studio, who can touch them for kickass tunes, clever and fun lyrics, exceptional vocals — frontman Dave Vanian has one of the finest sets of pipes in rock history, let alone punk — and the raucous sense of energy that make old school punk such a blast in the first place. However, when they're mediocre or just plain bad, there are few bands less worth listening to, and in many ways they can be held responsible for taking the whole Goth thing into the mainstream with the frilly-shirt theatrics of their "new romantic" PHANTASMAGORIA album back in 1985. Even as a sworn fan of the group it's possible to be polarized by their output, and following the results of their most recent album and the live show I saw on Thursday night at Manhattan's Fillmore, my twenty-four-year love affair with the Damned is finally over.

Laying down the law at Otto's Shrunken Head.

My buddy Chris and I met in front of the Fillmore, but Chris suggested we get a bite to eat and hit a bar for some affordable drinks rather than "have his enjoyment of the Damned polluted by some lame-ass opening band," and return in time to see the headliners take the stage at 10PM. I thought that was a pretty good idea, so we made our way to 14th Street's Otto's Shrunken Head (after we couldn't get through the door at the nearby Beauty Bar) and instantly felt at home in its dank, no-frills, tiki-accented recesses, our spirits bolstered by a Mohawked deejay who spun some favorites from our youth, including cuts by Adam and the Ants and Devo (our mutual favorite band).

Wee frontman Dave Vanian: my vote for the best rock vocalist of the past three decades (yes, I'm serious).

But, all too soon, we had to make our way back to the show, and our timing proved quite good since we totally succeeded in missing the opening acts. About a half hour after we arrived, the Damned took the stage and proceeded to put on a show that, while not horrible by any stretch of the imagination, felt to me like a Broadway jukebox musical of the Damned's greatest hits or a tribute show a la BEATLEMANIA, only with the actual band serving as a stand-in for themselves. There was a decent enough energy to the proceedings and fans both new and old seemed to enjoy themselves, but having seen the Damned perform to much greater effect in the past I just wasn't feeling it this time around. Not helping my sense of general malaise over the whole thing was the inclusion of material from their rather dodgy most recent album, SO, WHO'S PARANOID?, and unfortunately they chose to perform some of that album's lesser numbers, most notably the fourteen-minute lysergic Syd Barrett tribute "Dark Asteroid" and the awful "Dr. Woofenstein" (they should have gone with "Little Miss Disaster" of the excellent "Maid For Pleasure").

As the show rambled on I felt like I was at a weekend school gathering where the attendees showed up to brush up on the lessons they sought to keep in their heads by chanted repetition, an experience that was the polar opposite to the joyous and balls-out performance by Devo last week in London; Devo is a still-dear first love whose presence only makes the heart grow fonder, but after the last album and this current show I can honestly say the torch I once carried for the Damned has at last become a dying ember.

Captain Sensible: animated and humorously chatty as ever, but not naked (alas).

The band's classic songs were mostly to be had on the generous playlist, but the show was just so mediocre and by the numbers that Chris and I took our leave during one of the encores and felt none the worse for having done so. This was Chris' first time seeing the Damned and he did enjoy himself, but he also understood my indifference. Nonetheless, he was glad he saw them and would probably go again, but I cannot say likewise. This show was for me the last gasp of a once glorious and fulfilling relationship that has run its course, and now both parties can go their separate ways with the fond memories of better times to cherish forever. So with that I bid good luck and God bless to the Damned. You were great and I did truly love you, but it wouldn't be a bad idea if you finally saw fit to rest on your laurels and allow your legend to be celebrated as it should be, rather than haul out a show that reduces your work to a mild and somewhat-comfortable shadow of its former self.

My final image of the live-in-concert damned: it was nice knowing ya, lads. Thanks for all the good times.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, Fan Four and now The Damned? You are on a roll!

I'm glad I got to see them in the late 80's during their final tour. I guess they should've stuck with the plan.

Mel

Bunche said...

I saw that alleged "final" tour too, and several times after that, so go figure...