When I heard that The Damned would be playing a date in New Orleans to celebrate their 40th anniversary, I knew I had to be there. I couldn’t think of a better setting to see one of the original English punk bands also known for spearheading the moodier, darker sounds that would later become known as goth rock.
Formed in 1976 by lead vocalist Dave Vanian, guitarist Brian James, bassist (and later guitar) Captain Sensible, and drummer Rat Scabies, The Damned were the first English punk band to release a record and tour the United States. With band members changing many times over the years, Vanian and Sensible still remain in the current lineup.
While other bands like the Clash and Sex Pistols eventually got signed to major labels, the Damned took a more DIY approach for the majority of their 40 year career, not ever getting any major label promotion. The influence of their first album, “Damned, Damned, Damned” (1976) can be heard in the faster, more aggressive styles of the american hardcore punk acts of the early 80s like Bad Brains and Black Flag. As I noted before, The Damned went on to make music that also sounded very “goth”. Vanian’s vampire persona certainly influenced this other side of the band. Listen to tracks like “Plan 9, Channel 7” and “Curtain Call” and you can hear the origins of goth rock.
All labels aside, the Damned are not a one trick pony. Over the years they have managed to mix the colors of punk, goth, pop, experimental and psychedelia while making it palatable for any fan of rock music. (note to Len: Captain Sensible is a fan of early Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd) For someone that wanted to begin exploring the bands catalogue, I would recommend the album “Machine Gun Etiquette” (1979). It’s just an all around fantastic rock album with memorable guitars riffs, catchy hooks and sing-along anthems. Anyway, on to the show.
The 40th anniversary tour was almost cut short after Captain Sensible took a bad fall off the stage at their show in Toronto and broke a rib. Instead of cancelling the remaining dates the band not only decided to carry on, they pulled together and made one of the most punk rock statements ever! A custom made toilet “throne” was designed on a platform and spray painted with graffiti for the captain to rest on while playing guitar. While speaking with the captain before the gig he was in good spirits, signing autographs and having fun with fans. Vanian told my wife, Michelle at the meet and greet “the show must go on”.
The vibe at the house of blues was one of celebration, excitement and nostalgia. Longtime fans we spoke with traveled as far as England, Chicago, California and Puerto Rico to see the show! Their set-list rolled right the bands golden era, playing crowd favorites like “Shadow of Love” “Alone Again, or” and “Eloise” while also ripping through classic punk anthems “New Rose”, “Ignite” and “neat, neat, neat”. Although the band had some minor technical problems with a bad microphone, they took it stride by interacting and joking with the crowd. The 9 hour drive to New Orleans was well worth it!
While reflecting on the drive home from this great American city, I felt like I had witnessed a piece of rock n’ roll history!