The Damned 40th Anniversary Tour | 10/30/16 | Gramercy Theater
Let me preface this review by stating that The Damned are one of my favorite bands. I’ve seen them close to a dozen times since the mid-‘90s and think they are one of the greatest bands to come out of the first wave of punk rock. Dave Vanian has a voice that can’t be compared to anything else of its time and he still rocks harder than all his modern contemporaries.
Knowing full well that The Damned are getting up there in age and seeing most of their peers die in recent years, I try to catch every local performance. When the 40th anniversary tour was announced, I jumped at the chance to get tickets, particularly after how good their 2014 tour was. Smart move. Two nights at the Gramercy Theater sold out in days and the band didn’t announce a second wave of local shows until days before this one took place.
I should have known something was up when the band didn’t bring along an opening band or local support for the New York show. I got a little more worried when I was told that the set list was over 30 songs. For a typical punk band, that’s not a problem, but The Damned are not a typical punk band. For most of the ’80s, Vanian and company spearheaded the nascent goth movement releasing a ton of records that skewed more towards moody new wave, like early Ministry. These albums were hugely popular with mid-‘80s goths, but the songs haven’t aged as gracefully as their earlier efforts.
My fears were realized when the band hit stage and informed us that they would be playing a career retrospective in reverse chronological order. In other words, they started with a smattering of songs from their solid Nitro Records effort before veering hard left and spending an hour and a half playing tunes from Phantasmagoria and Strawberries. Real Talk: With the exception of “Ignite,” there is nothing good about either of those albums. Slow, plodding goth rock is a bore to sit through and they included five songs of each album. Then they took a 20 minute intermission.
Back on stage, they proceeded to reignite the set with MORE SONGS FROM STRAWBERRIES. To be fair, there was a ton of women my parents’ age, clad head to toe in black, freaking out for “Under the Floor Again” and “Sanctum Sanctorum.” My only regret was not going to the back to sit in a seat. It wasn’t until hour three that we finally made it to The Black Album (which the band did in its entirety along with Damned, Damned, Damned a few years back) that we got to rock. From then on, the show was balls to the wall Damned, with songs off the Friday the 13th ep, Machine Gun Etiquette and Damned x3. The hit all the high notes and kicked a ton of ass as they veered into hour four. After a short break, they came back for “Curtain Call” — the 18-minute opus from The Black Album. We tapped out. That was all The Damned I could take.
Seriously though, The Damned played with the ferocity of bands a third their age. Captain Sensible shredded on lead guitar, making his single guitar sound like a wall of sound. Monty Oxymoron was equally impressive, layering lush soundscapes under Vanian’s haunting vocals. They played a show on par and length of recent Bruce Springsteen and Green Day sets, so you definitely got your money worth.
As the band started up their punk segment, the two overly hyped 50-year-olds in front of us stumbled out of the venue. A friend yelled out, “Hey, why are you leaving before ‘Smash it Up’?” The one lady replied. “Because their punk stuff is shit.” I completely understood where she was coming from. I would have been in the same boat had they played the set in chronological order. Here’s to longevity and changing with the times. I’m going to go be a grumpy old man.