Wednesday, 12 December 2012

867 THE DAMNED, The Dickies, Oxford O2 Academy, Tuesday 11 December 2012

One final gig to round off another entirely satisfactory, 31 gig year. Nada Surf apart, this year’s top gig highlights have been pretty much exclusively provided by vintage or “reformed” acts (Adam Ant, Simple Minds, Furs, Hooky and Bob Mould amongst them), so it’s only fitting that a retro year gets a retro send-off, with an old school punk rock double header! I was tempted to go see true punk rock originals The Damned this time last year, having been impressed by their Motorhead support slot a few years back, and t’was only lack of cash, and the fact they were concentrating on their Goth crossover “Black Album”, rather than their sprawling punk epic “Machine Gun Etiquette” to complement their debut album in a dual run-through, that stopped me. So when they announced veteran California cartoon punks The Dickies, surprise returning heroes of gig 826 last August, as tour support, I was up for it, and when a cheap weekend visit with Evan freed up some cash, I quickly invested in a ticket before the money disappeared elsewhere!

This was another solo jaunt though, so I took a careful drive along in freezing and thickening fog, once again having a trying time parking; when did Cowley Road Tesco become the busiest car park in the world? So I hit the venue just after 7.30, happily vindicating my early departure, as The Dickies were due on at 7.45! They duly arrived onstage in front of a disappointingly sparse crowd, looked around as if to play “spot the punter”, before hammering into a totally appropriate destruction of “Silent Night”. And we were away, with me rocking out down the front from note one…

For a set which relied so much on adrenalized, lightning-fast punk rock electric guitar and Leonard Graves Phillips’ signature helium-fired vocal gabble, the Dickies actually sounded great. Phillips, whom lest we forget is north of 60 these days, was already throwing body shapes and elastic hand movements, a wiry and energetic stage presence belying his advanced years, feeding off the wide-legged rock stylings and strong-armed solidity of fellow original member Stan Lee, whose Spiderman guitar sticker, I was happy to note, matched his forearm tattoo! “I’m OK, You’re OK”; saw Phillips pointing directly at me for the chorus line; I am indeed, Leonard! He then demanded the house lights on to look at the crowd, remarking, “what a sausage-fest! I mean, not wanting to offend, but do any of you guys have girlfriends?” I, unfortunately was the only one replying, “how old??!” to his “Give It Back” intro line, “this song is so old,” until he gave the crowd instructions with a patient, “we can do this all night!” The usual props were brought on for the magnificent set highlight “Waterslide”, although a garble-along “Manny Moe And Jack” with a slow (?) false ending, ran it close. Phillips, clearly a complete stranger to good taste, replied to a, “Jimmy Savile!” chant with, “I know we were on Top Of The Pops in 1947, but Jimmy Savile did not perform oral sex on me!"

By now the set had degenerated into sheer chaotic brilliance. “If Stuart Could Talk” saw the penis puppet singing, “we’re one big happy family,” before a racey “Gigantor” finally saw the crowd joining in with Phillips’ exhortations to sing along. They won them over in the end, as a fully deserved encore saw the inevitable “Banana Splits” to end a frankly amazing and thoroughly entertaining hour long, 23 song (!) support slot; worth coming just for that!

But we also had The Damned to contend with, although they faced a challenge to follow that set for me. Still, the place was close to full by the time The Captain raced across the stage incognito, just before the house lights went off at 9.15. An incongruous looking bunch these days, indeed; a ticket inspector guitarist, Captain Sensible in his full cartoon punk regalia, red beret in place, what seemed like a prog druid wizard on keyboards; and then Dave Vanian; snake hipped Vanian, the gentleman ruffian in a smart black greatcoat, black quiffed hair slicked back, and looking superb and stylish. Stately and tuneful opener “Under The Wheels” was followed by a rabid and chaotic “Noise Noise Noise”, which set the tone for this schizophrenic but fascinating set, a melting pot of the influences and phases, from street-cool original punk through wild and warped psychedelia via hooky Goth pop, of this veteran band rapidly approaching their 40th year (!).

I confess I’m not too familiar with their recent works (and by “recent” I pretty much mean anything after the early 80’s!) but the unfamiliar, power-poppy “Danger To Yourself” was an early highlight before oldie “Neat Neat Neat”, (introduced by The Captain with, “you might know this one”) featured a lengthy and creepy Doors-like keyboard interlude from Monty the keyboard Wizard, masses of curly hair tumbling over his black silken robes. “Grimly Fiendish”, a keyboard-led music hall pop Goth number, saw Vanian giving a menacing performance, his prowling stage presence dovetailing in perfectly with his deep, imperious vocals, before the stylish jacket was finally discarded for a superb “Love Song”.

“This one’s for all the scumbags,” announced The Captain before an epic, driving “Anti Pope” which was breathtaking, a set highlight for me. Then “New Rose”, the first punk rock single, still frenzied and moshpit-huge after 35 years, a growling, titanic beast of a song, before a soaring, psychedelic “Ignite” with “whoa oh” chorus, and a fast, frantic “Sanity Clause” to end the set. The encore saw “Lovely Money”, another extended psych workout, dedicated to Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band mainman Viv Stanshall, before The Captain invited a fan, old punk Johnno, onstage for his 68th birthday to play air guitar with his feather duster to inevitable finale “Smash It Up”, climaxing a Damned fine 1 ½ hour set.

A great double header to end the year. I think The Dickies shaded it for me for sheer crazy entertainment value, but The Damned were also superb tonight. Well worth the freaky journey back in thick freezing fog; a splendid punctuation point on the 2012 gig year!

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