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The Damned @ The Triffid
Currently celebrating their fortieth anniversary, punk-pioneers, The Damned, have played to consistently sold-out venues throughout Australia, and tonight it’s the Triffid, Brisbane’s turn. There’s an age range of the barely 18, to those born in 1977, through to those who are 77. It’s frequently stated that The Damned have two very distinct fan groups of goth and punk, but tonight in Brisbane, old punks formed the (vocal) majority. That they are able to attract a capacity crowd mid-week is testament to The Damned’s enduring popularity, and that those fans braved the stinking Brisbane heat, proves their devotion.
Monty Oxymoron’s keyboard rendition of the melancholy and dramatic intro to Melody Lee forms a befitting entrance for his bandmates. The crowded Triffid audience are still chattering when guitarist Captain Sensible’s red beret is sighted. The room erupts in a rapturous chorus of applause and “yeah’s!” as he is joined by vocalist Dave Vanian. Looking more like a vintage thespian from the Grand Guignol than a modern rock star, Vanian saunters across the stage; his renowned sartorial elegance unaffected by the local climate, right down to the inclusion of black leather gloves.
It’s a full room, with the Triffid’s air-conditioning struggling to cope, but The Damned jump straight into a frenetic and sudden thrash of drums, bass and guitar; the pace at odds with the suffocating heat. Is it a risky manoeuvre starting with this high level of energy? Not for consummate professionals it seems. Vanian spins and moves across the entire stage, interacts with the crowded front rows and then yells out a line about "1977: who was there?” all without a lost breath. Captain Sensible bandies about like a playful kid, in between ripping out killer riffs, he strikes poses against Monty and the keyboard. Pinch throws a stand out of the way, and Disco Man elicits a huge response. This is followed by even greater enthusiasm for I Just Can’t Be Happy Today. The crowd is singing along and definitely roused, especially when the band declare that they like the venue. It’s no wonder; the arched dome ceiling of The Triffid’s darkened bunker forming a suitably theatrical set.
But, the lack of (literal) breathing space means the punters are more sedate than we might otherwise be. Whether it’s our age and that we’ve mellowed, or perhaps it’s the fear our ageing bones can’t sustain the impact, but there is no body-slamming in sight. And for a self-declared bunch of punks, these surely are some of the politest pogo-ing moves I’ve ever seen. “Sorry, sorry, excuse me” as toes are trodden and squashed and trampled.
However, The Damned are on from the start, and it seems their indefatigable energy is contagious. By Love Song there’s an actual shift in the punters’ mood, and the crowd finds its groove with Machine Gun Etiquette. Captain Sensible and Vanian are in fine form, and despite the stifling heat, together keep us entertained with banter worthy of a comedy set.
“Forty glorious years!” yells Vanian. The packed audience shouts and claps in appreciation. “I’m talking about the Buzzcocks” Dave teases, “What are you lot on about?”
Captain “treats” us to his version of the theme song to the old Tv. series “Prisoner (or “Prisoner: Cell Block H” in UK) “You used to bring me roses…” he sings, “…cos you lot don’t know ‘ow Coronation Street goes!”
Vanian declares that Captain Sensible’s guitar contains “every song that has ever been written in the history of rock-n-roll”
Eloise sounds much darker performed live than the clean, sanitised “pop” version many would be familiar with, and Vanian can still hit all the high notes of his youthful register.
Ignite, ten songs in, and Vanian’s again swearing about the heat. It doesn’t stop his showman moves across the stage, and the whole band sound incredibly tight, punching out the well-received Stranger On The Town, and Plan 9 Channel 7. Although the humidity is now making the room a steamy pool of sweat, the punters jump to the high-energy Wait For The Blackout and have found their inner (angry) youth, stomping about in their tiny claimed patch of Triffid floor-space.
Calls for “Smash It Up” are growing ever-insistent, and Monty finds his own burst of energy, running mid-stage. The London-based band again voice their disbelief that it could be so hot, and a punter throws his water over an appreciative Captain. This triggers a punter handstand and leg-kick from someone in the front, as the set ends with New Rose and Neat Neat Neat.
The stage clears but the crowd’s calling for an encore. Returning, Vanian’s finally lost the vest and after Jet Boy, Jet Girl (“It’s a little bit rude” Captain tells us) and Noise Noise Noise, the incessant calls are answered for the enduring classic, Smash It Up.
It can’t be an easy task trying to compile a set-list when your back catalogue stretches forty years, but The Damned manage to keep it fresh for an audience composed of old and new fans alike; their appeal stretches across generations and genres.
Labels like “punk” often get thrown about without much thought, but The Damned can rightly claim the title of the most underrated of all punk bands. Superlatives aside, if there’s a key element, it’s defiance. For forty years, and through ten studio albums (with their eleventh currently in the works), The Damned have long defied the critics, the odds, and it seems, the ages. And tonight in Brisbane, The Damned defied – and exceeded – all expectations. Full marks.
-Written by Jo Palmer, Contributions by Jacob Viel