By Luigi Sibona
Last Saturday I found myself rammed between a lumbering, seven-foot obelisk of a goth, his black and red dreads flailing like his elbows, and an aged, sinewy, sweaty punk throwing his weight around like he did the first time he moshed to The Damned in 1976. And let me tell you, you’ve never quite been in a mosh pit until you’ve been punched in the throat by what looks like your granddad if he were a skinhead in a sleeveless band top. It fucking rocks… and so did The Damned.
Punk royalty, The Damned, lit up the O2 Academy Brixton for the 40th anniversary of the first British punk single, ‘New Rose’, in 1976. Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and Co. opened the near two-hour long, career-spanning set in rip-roaring fashion with an entire rendition of their seminal ‘77 record, ‘Damned Damned Damned’. With little repose between songs, save for Sensible slating some 70s pop bilge (“do you remember Yes? They were bloody awful!”), the classics hit at a blistering pace with chant-along tracks like Fan Club and I Fall sounding as vital and rocking as ever.
The charismatic stage presence of Vanian remains untarnished over the last four decades as he commands the stage with his iconic goth garb and spinning shapes. However, its South-London punk poster boy Captain Sensible that knowingly stole the show, his cheeky chap antics feeling as genuine and freewheeling as the first time he blagged his way into the spotlight.
After ‘Damned Damned Damned’, the set moved on to later annals of The Damned’s illustrious career such as the perfect punk record that was ‘Machine Club Etiquette’ and the more progressive side of the spectrum with the goth rock defining ‘Strawberries’. The opening track from the ’82 album, ‘Ignite’, was the dizzying high point of the night, with the epic ‘whoas’ of the track filling the academy as the thunderous stomp of thousands of Dr. Martens came down heavy on the flooring. Expanded and segmented with the good Captain waving the mic stand out over the wailing audience relegates any usually robust recorded version to seeming utterly flaccid by comparison. This version of ‘Ignite’ certainly did what it said on the tin and the audience was on fire.
Forty years on and The Damned are still here. After line up changes and an eclectic, genre-skipping career, they can still rock you to the core. This is the kind of monumental rock-star show you don’t see anymore, the kind of magnetic stage presence and ‘fuck-you’ punk attitude that makes these damned souls immortal.