The Damned

The Damned

with The Toilet Boys and The Briefs

The Sapphire Supper Club, Orlando, FL • October 26, 2001

What better way to prepare for Halloween than by taking in a show by the newly-resurrected version of The Damned, arguably the first band to bring goth, horror, and sci-fi elements to the punk scene? Fronted by the legendary Dave Vanian and aided and abetted by original guitarist Captain Sensible, this was a rare chance to see some influential music legends in the intimate setting of the Sapphire Supper Club. Add to that the attraction of the band’s new bassist, ex-Gun Club/Sisters Of Mercy member (and current Mrs. Dave Vanian) Patricia Morrison, and this was simply too good an opportunity to miss.

The Sapphire was very nearly full when we arrived, with about half the crowd wearing the Official Punk Rock Uniform â„¢ — you know, the outfit “punks” wear to show everyone how non-conformist they are by conforming to the aesthetic of their social group (thus missing the whole point of punk rock to begin with). Of those, maybe a dozen or so looked old enough to actually realize the band’s significance on any kind of first-hand level, but what counts is that everyone in the club seemed to respect that they were at a special event, and not just another show.

Which is something the technical staff didn’t seem to get, at least at first, as the start of the show was interminably late — so much so that I decided to walk outside for a little fresh air. I couldn’t have been gone for more than 15 minutes, but when I returned, The Briefs were living up to their name by playing the very last notes of their abbreviated set. Apparently, they’d been asked to keep it… er… brief due to the delays. I’m really sorry to have missed them, as throughout the club, people were raving about their performance (which, I understand, included a Replacements cover). If word of mouth is any indication, it’ll be worth making an effort to see these guys next time they’re through.

Thankfully, though, I didn’t miss The Toilet Boys — and you shouldn’t, either, if you ever get a chance to see them! The Toilet Boys are everything that hair metal ripped off of The New York Dolls — androgyny, showmanship, and punk rock attitude. Lead singer Guy had many in the audience wondering if he was a guy, he pulls of the androgynous look so well. Playing a very glammed up rock with punk overtones, The Toilet Boys were all about putting on a show, complete with synchronized windmill guitar moves, sparks shooting from their guitars and from the stage, fire breathing, and at the set’s close, setting the lead guitarist’s axe ablaze as he continued to play it. Certainly one of the best stage spectaculars I’ve seen in some time, and they gained bonus points with me for both their solid rock sound and the fact that they paused to dedicate a song to the late, great Bullys guitarist (and long-time friend of Ink 19) Johnny Heff, who lost his life as a firefighter at the World Trade Center. Again, I stress, if you get the chance, don’t miss The Toilet Boys — everybody should see this band at least once!

Finally, it was time for The Damned. Ripping out of the gate with “Democracy?,” the lead track from their new album, Grave Disorder, it was instantly clear that despite the core band members having been at this for a quarter-century (!), they’ve lost none of their vitality or intensity. Dave Vanian looked like a cross between the ghost of Roy Orbison and an older, gothed-up version of Amazing Crowns singer Jason “King” Kendall — smooth in a ruffled black shirt, gloves, and coat, hair back in a (slightly-balding) pompadour. And his voice is still in tip-top shape, even thrilling when a between-song mic check found him lapsing into an a capella rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire.” Captain Sensible, too, seemed in top form, bounding about the stage with reckless abandon and searing guitarwork. Patricia Morrison fits right into the mix with her driving basswork and dark good looks. Drummer Pinch and keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron round out the tight, solid five-piece, which proceeded into a barnstorming set largely dominated by tracks from Grave Disorder, but with enough old favorites thrown in to keep the long-time fans happy.

It may have been this reliance on the new material that kept the crowd reaction somewhat subdued for the first half of the set. While nearly everyone got excited when the band charged into “New Rose” for its second song of the set, there was no real “pit” action until a very rocked-up version of “Eloise,” midway through the set — an odd reaction from a large contingent of “punks in uniform.” Personally, I didn’t understand it, as most of the new material was excellent, and stood toe-to-toe with the old favorites like “Neat Neat Neat” and “Love Song” — especially tunes like “Song.Com,” “Would You Be So Hot”, and “Neverland.” Nevertheless, by the mid-point, everyone was fully into the show, and by the time the band closed with a barnstorming “Neat Neat Neat,” everyone was loudly clamoring for more, even (incongruously) slipping into The Ramones’ “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” chant.

The entreaties were paid off by the reappearance of Captain Sensible, wearing nothing but a pink wig, spiked collar, and a pink tutu! The Captain proceeded to launch into a tirade about his dubious solo career, then took the piss out of his own solo hits, with the rest of the band sneaking on to back him up — and leading Vanian to quip “I’m in a band with two very dangerous women!” That led to a four-song encore that was a real crowd-pleaser, including old favorites like “Disco Man,” and to close the night, a truly apocalyptic “Smash It Up” that ended with The Captain mooning the audience and pouring bottled water all over his ass and onto the front rows. Now that’s punk rock!

In short, don’t miss this show when it comes to your town. It’s a chance to experience a living, breathing, vital piece of punk rock history — and one hell of a great time, besides. Beats the overblown Sex Pistols reunion of a few years back by miles…

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