Punk originals, The Damned, hit the live circuit to promote their new album, Darkadelic – we head out to see what all the fuss is about!
Tonight the Damned are playing their second London date on the Darkadelic tour to promote the forthcoming album of the same name. So the first thing to note is what an interesting venue the Ally Pally theatre is. It was derelict for over 80 years having failed to attract crowds from the West End and was restored in 2016. Inside it now has bare walls and a church-type atmosphere combined with a very high ceiling. It is also a relatively difficult place to get to when compared to the other venues in London and I can’t help thinking the gig would have been better attended were it being held at somewhere like the Electric Ballroom but hey ho, we’re here now so onward with the review!
The Damned are an interesting band, having re-invented themselves many times while staying true to their punk rock roots and consequently, the audience they attract is also quite a mixed bag. There are goths, punks, wastrels and misfits and anything in between plus a fair collection of people that you just can’t pigeonhole into a tribe. Looks like a typical Damned audience to me.
However, most of the audience is seemingly queueing at the bar when support band The Nightingales take to the stage. These guys have been around for ages although for some reason I’ve not come across them before. A four-piece, traditional guitar / bass / drums / vocals type setup with drummer Fliss Kitson doubling up on vocals too, they play a 45 minute set from a very extensive back catalogue of songs.
Slowly the venue fills, although generally there is a muted response from the crowd. The rhythm section of the band sound solid, with James Smith’s layered guitar on top, in truth, the music is quite difficult to categorise. There are whimsical elements interspersed with a post-punk sound. Rob Lloyd on vocals wanders around the stage, sometimes looking like he doesn’t know where he fits in, or lost for something to do when there are no vocals to occupy him. At one point he tears up a cabbage and throws it into the audience, I’m not really sure what social commentary this was pushing but it did seem strange. At another point he plays a kazoo – not something you see every day.
The most animated figure on the stage is Kitson on the drums, she is an accomplished drummer and the vocals provide a good counterfoil to Lloyd’s rather deadpan delivery. Sadly there is little reaction from the crowd for much of the performance, and for many it is an opportunity to get another drink before The Damned take to the stage.
After a pause to clear the stage of equipment and tidy up the mass of leads that was present for the Nightingales’ performance, the lights go down and The Damned take to the stage. Sensible looking his usual self, a grin never far from his face, Paul Gray looking like the epitomy of cool on the bass and new guy Will Taylor on the drums with a delicately coiffured ‘tache. Monty on the keys never looks far from madness and they are joined by Vanian in full evening wear. A long black coat, sunglasses, dress shoes, trousers, a jacket, gloves and black hat (a fedora I think). While the coat and jacket get ditched as the set progresses, the hat & glasses remains throughout!
Understandably, much of the set this evening is lifted from the new album, Darkadelic, out on the 28th April 2023. This means that there are quite a few songs that the crowd will not have heard before. It is also quite a tricky problem coming up with a set that keeps everyone happy as there have been various discrete phases to The Damned’s music, each appealing to a different selection of the audience. Starting with Street Of Dreams from Phantasmagoria is a nod to a more gothy period. Vanians vocals are always a highlight of a Damned gig and tonight is no different, no matter what you think of the music, there is no denying this man can really sing and is a major element of the Damned sound regardless of which period we’re talking about.
The Invisible Man follows on, one of the singles taken from the new album. It’s a punchy track with an infectious chorus and bodes well for the album. “Wait for the Blackout” takes us to more familiar territory, Paul Gray’s walking bass lines are always a treat and the song is very well received. Another track from the new album, the curiously named Bad Weather Girl sees Vanian twirling an umbrella around the stage and looking like he is in his element performing. There’s a nice touch on Sensibles’ cab – where you would expect to see the “Marshall” logo, it has been replaced by a “Captain” logo in the same font, very nice.
The next few songs of the set are all taken from the new album, showcasing some pretty sharp songwriting and melodic sensibilities. It is obvious the guys are pleased with their new opus and are keen to showcase it. And why not, in my opinion it is the best album the band has created in a number of years. There are some very notable standouts here – set opener The Invisible Man shines, Beware Of The Clown has the potential to be a classic (and this is performed with red noses donned by Sensible and Vanian) and Follow Me, with its sharp commentary on influencers, is another great track.
While the audience listen to the new tracks with interest, you can tell that they are yearning for some of the older material that they’re more familiar with. This comes in the form of a double-paced Born To Kill which is very well received. Quickly followed by a blistering rendition of Love Song and Machine Gun Etiquette and the crowd is fully back onside again. Vanian never stops moving around and is the perfect frontman, Sensible is quieter than normal though. I kind of look forward to his interaction with the audience and that is a little lacking this evening.
The set ends with the inevitable Neat, Neat, Neat and the Damned leave the stage. They return to play Eloise and then another classic performance of Smash It Up. This sees the crowd go wild and the security in the venue start to get a little twitchy. Sensible comments “not to worry, this is how punkers dance, no harm is meant, all good! “
They leave the stage once more, only to return to play a fuelled-up version of Girl, I’ll Stop at Nothing which bleeds into set closer New Rose, which has Monty leaving his keyboards and dancing around and the biggest response from the crowd. Before leaving the stage for the final time this evening, Vanian has a heartfelt thank you for the crew, venue staff, and the audience and especially thanks everyone for the indulgence of the band playing so many new tracks.
As ever, an impressive performance, especially with so many new tracks in the set, not the best I’ve seen The Damned by any means but certainly still entertaining and a fine evening was had by most of the crowd. Disappointing that we didn’t have I Just Can’t Be Happy Today which I would have preferred, if truth be told, to some of the earlier material but you can’t have everything. I look forward to listening to the new album with renewed interest.
The Damned new album, Darkadelic, is released on the 28th April 2023 and can be purchased through all of the normal outlets and be pre-ordered from the Damned website here
All concert photography by Graham Hilling. You can check out more of his work on his website, here.
The Damned: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
The Nightingales: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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Categories: Live Reviews
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