THE DAMNED - TREXTASY, Corn Exchange, Ipswich, UK - 26th May 2010
The irony of the bill did not escape me. The fact that THE DAMNED, one of the bands that lead the charge for the new beat that was Punk Rock, is now be playing over 30 years since its first record came out with a fully fledged tribute band as support suggests they have become what they set out to destroy. Yet, if any of the original wave could get away with this particular support, I guess it is Vanian and the boys as they did support Marc Bolan way back in the 70s.
I arrived 10 minutes after the doors opened and TREXTASY was already on. I don’t have much time for tribute bands, but at least this lot has the decency of doing a tribute to someone who is no longer alive. Gotta say also, this was a really convincing performance. Even from a moderately close distance, the resemblance between the singer and the real Marc Bolan was uncanny. He had the moves too, exuding Bolan's vaguely androgynous appeal in every way. All the obvious tracks were there - ‘Get It On’, ‘Children Of The Revolution’, ‘Jeepster’, an excellent ‘Solid Gold Easy Action’, my favourite ‘Metal Guru’ and ‘20th Century Boy’. The negative was ‘Telegram Sam’ that lacked that broad, orchestral sound and came over a little pedestrian. Never heard ‘Ride A White Swan’ either. After a couple of bottles of Newcastle Brown, I found myself grooving to the Bolan beat and had simply forgotten just how many truly great songs the man wrote. I even applauded at the end - can’t recall any other tribute band that I have ever given such plaudits to before!
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen THE DAMNED. I’ve seen highs (1988’s reunion shows at Town and Country Club being a particular high, along with a full performance of ‘Curtain Call’ at an Ipswich gig in the early ‘90s) and dismal, embarrassing lows (‘Neat Neat Neat’ being drawn out to over seven minutes in some sterile fucking Prog Rock muso experiment being the most unforgivable). This, the first time I’ve seen THE DAMNED without the legendary and incendiary drummer Rat Scabies, was never going to live up to the heady heights of seeing the Vanian-James-Scabies-Sensible line-up, but it was going to be interesting - especially in the wake of a new, half-decent album to promote in ‘So, Who’s Paranoid?’
Predictably the show kicked off with ‘Wait For The Blackout’ - still one of my favourite DAMNED songs. The sound was OK (considering the Corn Exchange usually sounds worse than a crap bootleg played with a knitting needle while an Alsatian shits all over the stereo speakers), a decent crowd had appeared (especially at £21.50 a head) and the band seemed to hold its own on such a classic. Vanian, I hate to say, looked fantastic. I’ve never seen him look anything less in fact but, given the fact he must be 50+, I had hoped to see a bit of middle-aged spread! Alas no - and vocally he still sounds commanding.
Unfortunately, as the show progressed, it became evident that the drummer just really wasn’t up to Scabies. Sure, he was a good drummer (very good in fact) but let’s be honest - Rat was/ is the best drummer in UK Punk. Period. ‘Love Song’, the song I so vividly recall from Top Of The Pops in 1979 that kick-started me onto this whole Punk Rock thing, was the biggest disappointment of all. The bassist, rather than attacking the strings, just played them; it was lacklustre. And of course there was no Rat to power it along.
The set list was impressive and surprising. Besides obvious squad members - ‘New Rose’, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ (which was drawn out a little - but not to an offensive ELP length), ‘Smash It Up’, ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ - there were a few surprises. ‘Bad Time For Bonzo’ and ‘Gun Fury’ from the ‘Strawberries’ album, the excellent ‘Disco Man’ followed ‘...Blackout’ and ‘Thanks For The Night’ all stood out. The big surprise was the post-Sensible tracks ‘Eloise’ and ‘Shadow Of Love’. Decent executions of them too. The highlight was an inflammable take on ‘Stretcher Case’.
Vanian threw a bit of a moody fit also, throwing his microphone toward the back of the stage and stomping off. I’m guessing it was a bit of staged anarchy - I’ve seen that before - although I would like to think the mic was directed at the drummer. Hahaa!! Had it been a genuine display of disgust toward Ipswich, I doubt he would have reappeared to do a 20 minute encore - unless it was the chorus of “Sensible’s a wanker,” that Storkey, Boondog and I initiated. Heckling and general abuse directed toward the Captain was notably absent from this gig. Surely, Ipswich is not that conservative - or I that old??!!
It was all over by about 10.40pm - meaning I could get the last bus! How did this stack up in a long list of DAMNED shows? Not bad actually; it was better than I expected and, had Rat been sat behind that kit, it could’ve been an impressive if not killer DAMNED gig.
See what I mean?