Tonight saw a really strong cross section of a crowd, including original punks from the 1970’s, those that were too young the first time around, the curious, and a fair smattering of Goths in what looked like a dress rehearsal for next month’s Sisters Of Mercy gig at The Corner Hotel. Everyone that was at the venue was treated to a highly enjoyable night.

Opening proceedings was comedian/magician Dr El Suavo. Wearing a Mexican wrestling mask, the good doctor, while gleefully smutty and charming at the same time, felt a bit out of place. This is an increasing trend in live gigs over the past year, getting a novelty act as part of the supporting acts. It always feels a bit wrong. Tonight’s performance would have been more suited to an RSL rather than opening for a legendary punk band celebrating their thirty-fifth anniversary.

More fitting were the next act, Sydney four piece Kill City Creeps. A welcome change in that the band were primarily female, a nice bit of oestrogen was injected into both the evening and the gleefully noisy garage rock that the band play. With no bass player, the band still managed a gutsy sound and style, via the bass lines being played on keyboard, Doors-style, and the really strong drum sound. Some really great tracks like “I Got A Letter”, “Not A Ghost” and “You Won’t Catch Me”, show a great band full of promise. This was a highly enjoyable set from Kill City Creeps.

Formed in London in 1976, The Damned were, along with the Sex Pistols and The Clash, on the front line of the original punk movement in the United Kingdom in the 1970’s. Featuring the intense and highly foreboding persona of lead singer David Vanian and the ridiculously underrated guitar playing of Captain Sensible, The Damned were the first band of its style to release a single, the anthemic and blistering “New Rose”. Tonight was very much a celebration of a band that, have in some way, shape or form, continued to play live and record over the past three and a half decades.

The lineup tonight featured only Vanian and Sensible as original members. They were backed by a fantastic rhythm section, featuring the excellent keyboard and interpretive dance work of Monty Oxy Moron. Kicking off with the rocking “Blackout”, the band played a great set tonight, covering some of the highlights of their career. Four songs in was “New Rose”, which sent the older members of the crowd, including a rather animated Mark Seymour from Hunters & Collectors, into an absolute frenzy. A sensational version, which saw the band firing on all cylinders, this was a wonderful moment that reminded you how important this band are to how music of this genre has taken shape and form and continues to influence.

In a rather lovely moment, Sensible dedicated “Feel The Pain”, to old friends and former band members Brian James and Rat Scabies, who couldn’t be there on the night. Vanian, in particular, seemed to be incredibly relaxed and good natured this evening, even offering a handshake or a hello to fans along the front barrier here and there. He still retains that highly effective and dramatic voice and way with the crowd. Married life with Patricia Morrison, former bassist of The Damned, Gang Of Four and Sisters Of Mercy, and becoming a father has definitely agreed with him. It was nice to see him really cutting loose and enjoying the evening.

You forget what a great guitar player Captain Sensible is, and what a wonderful way he has with his instrument. Like the best guitarists, the instrument seems an extension of his being, in both a physical and spiritual sense as well as a sonic one. It was a joy to watch him do his thing, especially on tracks such as “Anti-Pope” and the brilliant “Neat Neat Neat”.

The band put on a fantastic encore, which featured the likes of “Nasty”, which Vanian commented ruefully that the band should have released as a single after it featured in the TV show The Young Ones. The encore also featured the band’s still powerful and startling take on the 1960’s one-hit wonder “Eloise”, showcasing Vanian at his most vocally compelling and theatrical. The night ended in fine fashion with the band’s best known track, the immortal “Smash It Up”.

Covered faithfully by The Offspring in the mid-nineties, tonight proved that nothing beats the original, with the assembled crowd going utterly berserk to an all-time classic track which still sounds like it was recorded yesterday, with an unbeatable urgency and passion to it.

A great night and a lot of fun was had by all at Billboard. Tonight, The Damned were an excellent reminder of one of the bands who were the architects of the punk sound as we know it.

– Neil Evans