December 1st 2013
The Damned and Ruts DC hit North Wales and leaves the audience, and Louder Than War, reeling.
The festive season in North Wales is hereby declared open! For those present in Buckley and for many other Louder Than War readers, Christmas certainly has come early in the shape of this double-headed dream tour of The Damned and Ruts DC.
What we are dealing with here is a rare chance to see two of the legendary names in punk history on the same bill. The Ruts burned brightly and tragically far too briefly, but they did bequeath a body of work that many bands with greater longevity can only envy. The Damned will always carry the flame of punk from 1976, a band for the people not the record companies or corporate marketing agencies. Too busy getting on with the business of delivering top quality live shows to worry about peripheral issues (and re-issues), The Damned will always be the genuine touchstone for the punk era that is so important to so many. Long may they remain so.
Ruts DC hit the stage to a venue which seemed quite empty but, to their obvious pleasure, was full to bursting by the end of the second song. A couple of excellent newer songs, ‘Mighty Soldier’ and ‘Fools’ launch the set before the classic ‘Backbiter’ really got things rocking. Legendary album The Crack’s apocalyptic vision of ‘It Was Cold’ followed before a superb updated version of ‘Sus’ was played to remind us that some things remain unchanged from when the record was first released. The added dimension that the vocals of Molara bring to the sound makes the current line-up unmissable. Segs informed us that the next song, ‘One Step’ was an attempt to introduce some positivity to the set, but this was to be short-lived as ‘No Time to Kill’ swiftly followed. Ruts DCAW were delivering a mighty performance that was being devoured by a crowd, many of whom had yearned to see them live again. They were not disappointed.
The closing section of the set delivered five songs of timeless quality firstly in the shape of ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’, the lyrics of which were clearly etched into the minds of the audience as everyone around me was word-perfect. ‘Jah Wars’ preceded the classic ‘West One Shine on Me’, a track of such potency you can’t help but wonder what heights The Ruts could have scaled had history taken a different turn. The essential ‘Babylon’s Burning’ and ‘In a Rut’ brought the set to a rousing conclusion before a rammed and appreciative audience. Forget the years Ruts DC have been away and make the most of the fact that they are back with us to share some great new sounds and celebrate a classic legacy.
There are a number of bands out there who would not be keen on following a support act of the quality of Ruts DC. The Damned are not one of them. As someone said to me shortly before stage-time, “you know what you’re going to get with The Damned”. You do; a bloody great performance that will send you out into the night on a high and tonight, the first night of Advent, was to be no exception.
Dry ice filled the stage as the lights went down with the house music being replaced by the sound of thunder and driving rain that immediately had the hairs on the nape of many a Welsh neck rising. This could mean only one thing; they were coming onstage to a long-forgotten classic from 1985’s Phantasmagoria, Sanctum Sanctorum. I last saw this brooding classic performed live in 1987 but tonight it provides a stunning set opener. Captain is first to appear through the swirling fog before the entry of surely punk’s greatest front-man. A final chilling clap of thunder and there he is, resplendently mysterious in classic Dickensian garb, Dave Vanian strides forward to boom the opening lines and immediately has this venue in his grasp.
Vanian is as cool as you could ever wish and his every move is in perfect time as he conducts the band through a set list that no one could have predicted. Next we are treated to three of their lesser played tracks. ‘Don’t Cry Wolf’, a hidden gem from the difficult second album ‘Music For Pleasure’ is followed by ‘See Her Tonight’ and ‘Sick of Being Sick’. The Damned are holding nothing back, they never do and we are then launched straight into The Black Album with the first three tracks played straight through; ‘Blackout’, ‘Lively Arts’ and ‘Silly Kids Games’.
The latter gives Captain the chance to take centre stage, not that he is ever far from the gaze. Sporting the classic ‘Captain kit’ (available on the merchandise stall if you feel the need) of red beret and shades he berates himself for being too vain to wear glasses and therefore read the set-list. It’s reassuring for us mortals to know that age has had at least some impact on these people as none is really visible. We are treated to another three on the bounce, this time ‘Ignite’, ‘Generals’ and ‘Stranger on the Town’ from 1982’s ‘Strawberries’, an album that was, and remains, hugely under-rated.
Classics from all eras of the band’s history are fired out; ‘Feel the Pain’, ‘Eloise’ and ‘Song.com’ as The Damned are clearly relishing the night. The on-stage chemistry between Captain and Dave, two of punk’s great survivors, and Monty, Stu and Pinch is tangible. This is by far the most enduring line-up of The Damned and it’s good to see them enjoying the show. The enjoyment is shared by the crowd as you look around everyone seems to be smiling at the banter and engrossed by the music. That’s right; people are smiling. On a Sunday night! In Buckley! Another first three tracks is delivered, this time from ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’; ‘Love Song’, ‘Second Time Around’ and ‘Just Can’t Be Happy’ have never sounded better before ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ and the immortal ‘New Rose’ close the set. ‘New Rose’ is one of those defining songs and tonight it’s grown legs and walked through the pages of rock history to be with us.
After a set list like that, only a fool would try to predict the encores. One did and I got it horribly wrong! Returning to the stage with a frantic version of ‘I Feel Alright’ we then revisit Phantasmagoria for a completely unexpected airing of ‘The Eighth Day’. Still reeling from that we are smacked straight between the eyes by ‘The Ballroom Blitz’, the chaotic recording of which is the subject of a hilarious chapter in Lemmys’ autobiography (incidentally rumours abound that he will record with The Damned again in the near future so watch this space). Captain was wearing an eye-catching and specially designed ‘Wot’ shirt so maybe we should have expected that would be given an outing. Leaping around the stage, he is able to laugh at the absurdity of pop stardom and his own part in it as the rest of the band gleefully joins in. There’s only one way to end an evening like this and the anthemic ‘Smash it Up’ is triumphantly delivered. If there’s one song that has the capacity to unite a room full of strangers with the joyously defiant sentiment, this is the one and tonight demonstrates this, as will every night of the tour.
Another night and another perfect show delivered and as the hundreds of happy punters file out of the Tivoli the show rolls on. This is the must-see gig of the year and you can keep up with all the action with The Ruts tour blog on Louder Than War.
Be sure to check out our Ruts DC day by day tour diary too, part one of which can be found here.
All words by Dave Jennings. More of Dave’s writing on Louder Than War can be found in his author archive. He is also on Twitter @blackfoxwrexham.