Every Damned fan knows their 1979 song “Smash It Up.”
The title has become a popular go-to expression when the band delivers some goodness, i.e. a killer record or a blistering live set. “They really smashed it up with that one …” You get it. It's a thing you want to say because it works. But you don’t want to say it because it’s so easy and expected. And sometimes you just say, “fuck it” and make that reference because it perfectly sums up the situation.
Last night, at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, the band — who are touring to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their album Damned Damned Damned — made those words ring true. They. Smashed. It. Up.
With twenty-three songs, including two encores, the current version of the band featuring Dave Vanian (lead vocals), Captain Sensible (guitar), Monty Oxymoron (keyboards), Stu West (bass), and Pinch (drums) rocked the hell out of the venue filled with diehard fans.
They had fun doing it, too. Their collective sense of humor was pervasive and addictive. It was goddamn dreamy. There’s no way you can’t sport a toothy grin just watching Captain Sensible rock the hell out while sitting on a toilet. He busted some ribs a few weeks back, so he’s performing atop a specially crafted, decorated porcelain throne until he heals.
Keyboardist Monty Oxymoron came out first. Looking every bit the demented psychedelic space rocker that he is, he started warming things up. That guy is a show of his own; waving his frenzied hands around the keyboards, clad in black and his tight 'fro bouncing, his style of playing reads like a weirdo witch casting crazy spells.
The rest of the band joined to play a mix from their catalog of punk rock and goth-tinged tunes, each one met with cheers. And some tears. Happy tears – there were a couple of fans around us who were teary with joy from start to finish.
“Melody Lee” was the first song they played after dealing with a technical glitch. That gave Sensible a chance to start the jokes: “The equipment is fucked, me ribs is fucked …” It all worked out quickly, and they went into “Generals” and “Disco Man.” Vanian — looking like quite the exquisite undertaker, as aptly noted by a friend — introduced the next song saying, “Since I’m missing Twin Peaks tonight, it’s fitting to play ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today.’” Every single thing was on point – the Captain’s vicious guitar work, Vanian’s hypnotic vocal tones, hooky bass playing, sharp drum work, and those wild keys.
Each member’s distinct personality gets to shine through in this band, and that’s part of what makes them so brilliant. There’s no bullshit.
Vanian really went on the prowl during “Love Song,” another 1979 tune from their album Machine Gun Etiquette. He loosened that tie and paced around the stage, keeping a buoyant crowd properly riled. That was followed by “Street of Dreams” and “Eloise,” both ‘80s tracks that highlight the band's more goth side. “Ignite” was ferocious, and the band got the audience involved with some vocal action.
Before getting into “History of the World Part 1,” Vanian commented on the recent election and said he hopes for a “History part two – after Mr. Trump has fucked off!” Shows like this recall just how much good music can get you through shit, and how much you really need it when evil motherfuckers like the Mango Mussolini are at the helm of any ship.
“New Rose” was fierce — so much so that Vanian had to acknowledge it with a toothy grin as he added post-applause, “Put that in Green Day’s pipe and smoke it.”
They closed the set with “Neat Neat Neat,” and let everyone catch their breath before returning for two rounds of encores.
Before getting into “Jet Boy, Jet Girl,” with the Captain on vocals, they had some fun playing a bit of his “Wot,” from one of his solo releases; the force of nature known as Lisa Kekaula (lead singer from opening band, the Bellrays) came out and got in on the fun. Then it was “Nasty” and “Smash It Up,” before another quick break and the rousing ending comprised of “Born to Kill,” “Fan Club,” and “Anti-Pope."
Last night, and probably every night, the band’s chemistry with the audience mirrored their relationship with each other. Less of a formal concert, the night was more like a get-together with your dear old friend’s ridiculously amazing band. Fuck a whole buncha bands who complain about having to play songs again and again after a year, or two years. The Damned made 40 years feel like it was day-one — simply by keeping it real.
And by the way, you haven’t lived until you get to see Monty Oxymoron hop out from the keyboards, take center stage and have a spastic, psychedelic freak-out dance solo. Magic.
Let’s not forget about the Bellrays. The revved-up rock-and-soulers delivered their tunes with veracity and power, as is par for the course for them these last two decades. Lisa Kekaula’s voice and presence combined kept the audience under her spell, as the band unleashed a continuous fury of rock and roll chaos.
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"I Just Can’t Be Happy Today"
"Alone Again Or"
"Street of Dreams"
"Stranger on the Town"
"Plan 9, Channel 7"
"Wait for the Blackout"
"History of the World Part 1"
"Neat Neat Neat"
"Jet Boy, Jet Girl"
"Smash It Up"
"Born to Kill"
Last Night: The Damned at Marquee Theater.
The crowd: The Damned were celebrating their 40th anniversary of a song. Most of the audience members have celebrated a 40th birthday.
Overheard: Weeping. Several tears were shed by fans when lead singer Vanian got off stage and walked through the crowd.
Notebook dump: The bro-hug took the crown for most used physical greeting of the night. Old punk rock dudes bro'd down hard.