The Damned & The Dickies
Birmingham Academy
13th December 2013

Louder Than War’s Macthehack recently attended a gig by both The Damned & The Dickies at Birmingham’s Academy. And here he is reporting back to us with words & some great pics.

The Dickies could well be the perfect support act for the Damned. They may be ‘comedy punk’ (really? You’ don’t say!) but rather than using that as an excuse to be endearingly shambolic, The Dickies serve up an hour of tungsten sharp songs. You’d have to be a pretty stone hearted old punk not to be grinning by the end of their set.

With visual aids ranging from glove puppets to gorilla masks and blow up dolls, you can never accuse this band of not working the audience. But the real pleasing surprise is to see just how well the songs stand up. Accepting what they’re known for, with a set that draws heavily on their ‘Incredible Shrinking…’ debut album from 1979 with songs like ‘You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla)’ – hence the mask – and ‘Poodle Party’, it’s an hour of unalloyed fun.

These days the Dickies live have a twin guitar attack, having lost the keyboards somewhere along the way (they could give the Damned a run for their money in terms of line up changes over the years) and this is showcased to full effect with their crunching take on ‘Paranoid’. OK, they’ve been playing it for years, (in fact, it was their first single release) but still, having the balls to turn up in Birmingham and play it in Sabbath’s backyard – fair play to ‘em. Other highlights on the night included ‘Gigantor’ (not the only TV theme we’ll hear tonight…), ‘Stuck In A Pagoda (With Tricia Toyota)’ and ‘Manny, Moe and Jack’.

Strangely for a band famed for their reinterpretations of other artists songs, the two numbers that didn’t quite work were ‘Eve Of Destruction’, which may have suffered because so many people just didn’t know the original and a rather straight Who cover. Personally, I’d have liked to hear something like ‘Just Say Yes’ or indeed anything from ‘Idjit Savant’ but perhaps that’s being a bit picky.

Having earned an encore – and they really did earn it – as the gradually swelling audience (some of them way too young to have any real reference point to The Dickies as chart pop stars(!)) warmed to them, the band threw in one last curve ball with the only instrumental from ‘Incredible Shrinking…’ when guitarist Stan Lee introduces ‘Rondo (The Midget’s Revenge)’. It’s also the only song on the album that clocks in at over 3 minutes long, After that musical interlude singer and fellow original member Leonard Graves Phillips returns to the stage for a pleasing romp through their biggest hit, the ‘Banana Splits’ song. Yes, they did play it and yes, they did make up a mess of fun and it really was lots of fun for everyone.

And so to The Damned. Now boasting their most stable line up in years the band turn in a career spanning set that seems to have reinvigorated the band. Seasoned Damned watchers may agree that at points in the noughties the set was getting towards being a tad predictable. Whether it’s having finally released new material or the new younger fans who are constantly offering suggestions and demanding the return of forgotten songs online I really don’t know. But after the interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, 35th Anniversary tour playing ‘Damned, Damned, Damned’ and ‘The Black Album’ in sequence back to back, they really appear to be nailing it, with, on the strength of the Birmingham gig, what could be their best tour in years.

Sauntering on to The Persuaders theme (dodgy ‘70’s TV show staring Roger Moore & Tony Curtis – they don’t make ‘em like that anymore!), which itself was a nod back to the past as The Damned have used it as far back as the ‘80’s, if I’m not mistaken, before launching into ‘Under the Wheels’ and ‘Noise, Noise Noise’. It’s immediately apparent that this is a band at the top of their game.

Dave Vanian, resplendent in frock coat and gloves, remains the restless man in black and with a moderately restrained (by the standards of a man known to appear on stage in a tutu, furry Okapi suit or nurses uniform, as the mood takes him) Captain Sensible, seemingly in musician mode, it falls to bassist Stu West to spring the visual surprise.

This being the ‘Loco-A-Gogo’ tour Mr West arrived onstage decked out in a vintage British Rail train drivers uniform. A nice touch, although slightly spoiled when a friend pointed out; ‘he looks just like Bernard Cribbins in the Railway Children!’

In a set that never really had a dip, the glorious singalong of ‘Antipope’ and a muscular rendition of ‘She’ stood out. You could pick almost anything though; such was the consistent level of their performance. But the very fact that songs from 1979’s classic ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ and 2001’s ‘Grave Disorder’ work equally well tonight, summed up the strength of The Damned.

Of course you can always find room to question the inclusion of one song over another – tonight it would be ‘Ignite’ getting the nod over ‘Therapy’, but that’s missing the point. The Damned are working as hard as they ever have to keep the energy and originality that’s seen them survive so long. Rumour has it they even rehearse these days!

Mixed in amongst material from ‘So, Who’s Paranoid?’, ‘Strawberries’ and ‘Phantasmagoria’ even perennial favourites like ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ sounded hard, tight and dare I say it, fresh. None of the extended ‘widdling about’ versions that have sometimes cropped up in the past. With a 35 year career to cover every song is ruthlessly executed.

Talking of covers, something The Damned have always excelled at, this tour sees their take on Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ being given the full psychedelic punk treatment and sounds as good as it did when they first got their mitts all over it.

Being a pre-Xmas tour The Damned’s attempt at a festive cash in gets an airing. ‘Sanity Clause’ remains an infections romp of a song. Shame it was originally released in February! But it’s a splendid end to a rollicking main set.

Keeping up with their current enthusiasm for raiding the back catalogue for something different, even the encore was unpredictable. Coming back to the stage with ‘Lovely Money’ was a brave move that got its reward.

It’s also one of the few occasions that Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible have shared the vocals (alongside the sampled monologue by the late Vivian Stanshall from the original 1982 single). Just when you think you know what you’ll be getting from The Damned…

OK, bringing back ‘Lookin’ At You’ (the MC5 song The Damned have really made their own), might not be such a surprise, but what a version. Tight, hard and mean, before the good natured panto finale of ‘Smash It Up’ complete with dancing girls drawn from the front row of the crowd, rounded off things in enjoyably chaotic style.

As ever, Sensible is the last man standing and for once not threatening the audience with ‘Happy Talk’, as he milks the audience applause/abuse. On this form it might just be the case that The Damned are the last band standing too.

Setlist:

Under The Wheels
Noise Noise Noise
Rabid (Over You)
Danger To Yourself
Neat Neat Neat
Grimly Fiendish
Dr Jekyl & Mr Hyde
Antipope
Democracy
Stranger on the Town
Love Song
She
White Rabbit
New Rose
Ignite
Sanity Clause

Encore:
Lovely Money
Lookin’ at You
Smash It Up

All words and live photo’s by macthehack. You can read more from macthehack on LTW here.

1 COMMENT

  1. I was there, top gig and Lovely Money with the Viv Stanshall footage was the icing on the proverbial. Side note: Stan Lees’s yellow SG got smashed by careless baggage handlers on the trip home :(

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