At 9:20 p.m. last night, singer Dave Vanian stepped onstage at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach and introduced his band The Damned with two simple words: “Good morning.” It was the coolest moment in the history of the long-running punk venue.
Vanian and his bandmates (guitarist Captain Sensible, bassist Paul Gray, drummer Pinch and keyboardist Monty Oxymoron) began their show by playing the group’s 1979 album Machine Gun Etiquette in its entirety, which should have surprised no one in attendance because this show and Wednesday’s gig at the same venue were billed as such.
Perhaps it was the intimate venue, but The Damned looked to be having way too much fun playing songs that were older than some of the audience members. Vanian was clad in a black leather jacket, white scarf, black gloves and shades for the first three songs of the set (“Love Song,” “Machine Gun Etiquette” and “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today”) but removed his coat before dedicating fourth song “Melody Lee” to Jello Biafra, who spun garage, punk and rock ‘n’ roll records before The Damned’s set. Gray removed his coat after the sixth song “These Hands,” a two-minute keyboard-laden romp about a “demented circus clown” who chokes someone while “laughing at you/and you are turning blue.” That said, Vanian, Gray and Sensible never removed their shades for the entire night because this is The Damned and The Damned always look cool. Last night was no different.
If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t have known that Vanian, Sensible and Gray are in their 60s. Instead, the shades, the jolly interaction with the crowd, Vanian and Gray standing at the edge of the stage like rock stars and Sensible playfully referring to Oxymoron as “that fucking hippie over there” looked – and sounded – like a group of 20-somethings whose careers have just arrived and not a band that formed in 1976. But perhaps that’s what makes The Damned special: last night’s performance of songs such as “Twisted Nerve,” “Street of Dreams” and “Curtain Call” were dark, brooding and ethereal yet also incredibly fun. With most bands, you get one or the other. With The Damned, you get everything, including straight-ahead punk classics such as “New Rose,” “Neat Neat Neat” and “Ignite.” The latter ended the band’s two-song encore, which found Maestro Vanian waving his hands as he guided the crowd through a sing-along of “whoa-oh”s.
After “Democracy” (from 2001’s Grave Disorder), Sensible told the crowd, “This is a great venue. This is where I’d like to see a band play.” And he was right because it doesn’t get much better than seeing a classic band such as The Damned play a one-hour-and-forty-minute set at a venue the size of your friend’s backyard.