The Damned - Sydney Metro Theatre, January 21st 2012

The UK punk veterans celebrated their 35th birthday with some spirited Aussie performances last week; MaF caught their Sydney show...

Time, once again, then, to climb aboard the nostalgia bus en route to Memoryville. English punk band The Damned are here, walking among us, to celebrate their 35th anniversary with a short run of dates designed to remind us just how exciting punk rock used to be before the term ‘pop-punk’ existed. But first on this Sydney Saturday night there’s a support band to contend with, so, after being fleeced at the bar your correspondent takes up position at the rail and, guess what? He’s actually pleasantly surprised by what he hears!

It’s generally a thankless task for a young band playing these sort of shows. The crowd that’s in the auditorium – ie those who can’t afford to stand at the bar enjoying eight dollar cans of beer – are simply those who’ve decided to get a good vantage point for the main event and are tolerating the support at best, but tonight the kooky garage stylings of The Kill City Creeps are actually getting a few toes tapping with their B52s gone metal chops. They’ve still got a bit of a way to go stagecraft-wise, but the songs are there and you’ll be hearing more of them, you mark my words.

And so to The Damned. Though they may well be celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the band, only vocalist Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible remain from those halcyon days, with the rest of the band rounded out by accomplices who’ve hitched their colours to the mast along the way. One of these accomplices, keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron, is the undoubted star of the show, his frightwigged bonce bouncing up and down behind his bank of instruments like a demented Muppet as he dances frantically and adds some most welcome backing vocals to proceedings.

They become ever more welcome as the set wears on, as Vanian (who emerges at the start of the set clad in an excellent blazer/cravat/pencil moustache ensemble that makes him look like British comedy actor Terry Thomas) seems to run out of puff and/or enthusiasm towards the end of the hour long set; by the end of second encore Eloise he’s stopped going for anything resembling a high note and seems happy to get off stage whenever not directly involved in the action, leaving an ever-eager Sensible and Moron to provide the visual kicks. Sensible plays a blinder throughout, belying his comedic image to deliver an always compelling exhibition of masterful punk rock guitar playing; The other two men on stage, drummer Pinch (formerly of thrash metal minor legends English Dogs) and bassist Stu West offer no-frills support; they know their respective places and do nothing to detract from the two men we are all here to see, and, for the most part, everybody present seems happy with the result. The band plays a set guaranteed to please, with plenty of nuggets from their storied Damned Damned Damned debut (New Rose hits the spot in particular), Machine Gun Etiquette (Anti-Pope and Love Song ditto) and The Black Album to keep old cynics such as your correspondent happy. Mixed in with little curios like Nasty (a song the band performed on BBC comedy show The Young Ones but only ever released as a vinyl single)and the big hit Eloise from their later ‘goth’ period, it’s a well paced set that, Vanian’s fizzling out aside, brings a smile to the lips of all present.