The Damned + Hard-Ons @ Metro Theatre, 9/03/17 (Live Review)
Review by Alec Smart
Veteran British punk rockers The Damned, on their 40th anniversary world tour, performed at Sydney’s Metro Theatre on March 10, supported by the Hard-Ons, one of Australia’s longest-lived original punk bands.
Hard-Ons, themselves old-schoolers with a 35-year pedigree, opened up for The Damned on the Metro’s wide stage, enveloped in red lighting. The association between the bands goes back a long way, when The Damned’s guitarist Captain Sensible produced their 1992 split EP Where The Wild Things Are with other Aussie punk legends Celibate Rifles.
Prior to the band’s show, guitarist Peter Black mounted the stage and plugged in his array of effects’ pedals and audio cables without employing a guitar technician – uncommon among successful bands – even though I offered my services cheap.
Nevertheless, from managing their own instruments, booking gigs and arranging support acts, to bassist Ray Ahn illustrating their posters, T-shirts and album covers, the band utilize a do-it-yourself punk spirit that has served them well over three decades.
This includes plugging in unceremoniously and ripping into their set without introduction or pretension.
True to form, the band launched into a relentless sixteen-song set of fast and hard originals, shirts off, scarcely pausing for breath, with at times both Blackie and Ray playing their instruments behind their heads.
Having released ten studio albums and a multitude of EPs between 1986 and 2010, they have a vast repertoire of songs to draw upon, much of which is intense yet melodic, and laced with their characteristic caustic humour.
They also previewed a new track, Midnight, which hints of a new album in the making.
Founder member Keish de Silva is now permanently back in the band as front-man-vocalist after a 15-year interval. Prior to his long career break, he spent 12 years occupying the drum stool whilst doubling-up on lead vocals.
Despite his shy persona, Keish is a natural up-front focus for the band, and few men singing for punk rock bands could manage his combination of pink sneakers and tan slacks yet still look cool.
Guitarist Blackie is always in fine form, all swirling hair and fast-fingered scales, despite the near-death brain injury he experienced less than five years ago. On that occasion he was hospitalized for several months with a skull fracture after two teenagers battered him with a skateboard before kicking him unconscious during his main job of taxi driving.
He made a remarkable recovery, with tributes and offers of support coming from around the globe, testament to the long-term love the band enjoys among their international army of dedicated fans.
During the 1970s kickoff for the hedonistic music phenomena that was branded ‘punk’, The Damned have the honour of being the first British band to release a single, New Rose, in October 1976, followed by a full length album, Damned, Damned, Damned, then the first to tour the USA.
They thus eclipsed the infamous Sex Pistols, who, as the scene’s notorious icons with a year’s head start, created the template of punk’s abrasive attitude over its signature raw music. (The Damned opened for the Sex Pistols on their first gig at London’s 100 Club in July 1976).
However, unlike the Pistols, who burned out in a blaze of in-fighting and drug abuse before the decade’s end, The Damned remained relatively stable, transitioning from hard rock and introducing keyboards to ride the crest of post-punk genre Goth rock, which vampiric vocalist Dave Vanian, a former undertaker, influenced stylistically.
Four decades later, despite several line-up changes and musical experimentations, The Damned are as astringent and relevant as they were at their inception, with a multitude of contemporary rock bands citing them as a prime influence.
Keyboardist Monty Oxymoron was the first to take the Metro Theatre stage in Sydney, wearing a tie printed with skulls and crossed bones over his spotted jumpsuit, his headful of curls glowing red in the spotlight like a fiery halo.
Monty, a friend of Captain Sensible’s from one of his side projects, Dr. Spacetoad Experience, is, like bassist Stu West and drummer Pinch, a relatively recent addition to the band, although he’s been with them since 1996.
Reportedly a musical genius, the multi-instrumentalist cannot read a note of music and relies instead on his ability to learn new songs through just listening to the tune.
When the full band hit the stage, the hyperactive Captain Sensible, bedecked in his trademark red beret and comic plastic sunglasses, became the immediate focus of attention in his red tartan trousers and patch-covered blue denim waistcoat.
As he bounded around the arena, sections of the audience heckled him good-naturedly, chanting the familiar “Sensible’s a wanker, Sensible’s a wanker” that is often heard at Damned shows. Captain retorted with his own amusing jests between anecdotes about life with the band, before dedicating the song I Just Can’t Be Happy Today to a British soccer team known for its mixed fortunes – Crystal Palace FC – after spying someone in the audience wearing their jersey.
At 62, he has the boundless energy of a teenager, leaping around while playing note-perfect guitar scales, gurning like a larrikin, taunting the crowd, and on several occasions playing his guitar inverted behind his neck.
The band’s set was dominated by material from their early days, particularly their first, third and fifth albums, respectively, Damned Damned Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette, and Strawberries, plus, inevitably, given its chart success here in Australia, their reworked cover of the 1968 Paul Ryan song, Eloise, an international hit for them in 1986.
Surprisingly, there were no songs from their most recent album, So, Who’s Paranoid?, released in 2008, to which all members of the current and longest-lasting line-up of the band contributed.
However, the audience was in the mood for dancing and the inclusion of the old fast-paced classics, like Love Song, Neat Neat Neat, and Smash It Up got the moshpit churning like a pond full of piranhas at feeding time.
The band played a three-song encore before returning for the final number, Anti-Pope, to which Sensible added an improvised guitar solo to extend the three-minute thrash number into a prog-rock epic, before leaning into the crowd for heartfelt handshakes.
See Alec Smart’s photo gallery of the Metro Theatre concert here
AMNPLIFY – DB
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- Alec Smart