May 18, 2017
House of Blues - Dallas
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David N. Lindsey
Photos by Joseph De Leon
The Damned - The Damned , BellRays
The Damned / BellRays bring punk rock hits with English wit.
The Damned / BellRays have always been underrated, especially in America. Usually ranked a distant 4th place behind the Ramones, Sex Pistols, or the Clash. They deserve better. They were there on the front lines of British Punk, the first to release a single, an album, and to tour extensively. They were also the first to rebel against the punk stereotype, covering the Beatles "Help!" on their first B-side, covering "White Rabbit" and "Alone Again Or." The band's theatrical presence, a vital component, has always distracted from the sheer quality of their music. And even within that dynamic, there is distraction.
Their distinct Goth appearance loses a bit of scariness, when you have the guitarist Captain Sensible wearing a Tu-Tu. Would Bauhaus be as eerie and Gothic if the B-52's Fred Schneider was on stage in a polyester suit? But The Damned / BellRays are what they are, and what they are is great! The widely diverse House of Blues crowd were eager to see the band's first appearance in nearly 20 years, and only the second in at least 30.
Opening act the BellRays are of course punk, but more Bad Company than Bad Brains, their 'Soul Punk' for lack a better term is a Led Zeppelin meets James Brown hybrid. Front woman Lisa Kekaula led her band like an tough Patti LaBelle fresh from the Wendy O. Williams Salon. The bands influences were clearly on their sleeve, you could see their sludgefest "Whole Lotta Love" cover coming a mile away. Some of their set seemed old hat (Blues Brothers style segues are way past the sell by date), but you can overlook their faults as the BellRays are a tight combo whose sheer enthusiasm carries them over.
The Damned / BellRays's Keyboardist Monty Oxymoron preceded his band mates onstage with an inspired bit of lunacy, an all over the place keyboard extravaganza. Looking like a deranged Flo from the Turtles, bespectacled with a mega-fro and paisley attire, he coaxed unworldly sounds out of his keyboards. As his band mates took the stage he slid into the intro to "Melody Lee." Drummer Pinch and bassist Stu West provided a solid foundation throughout the show.
Original member and lead vocalist Dave Vanian came out in all his Gothic splendor. In an all black outfit he looked like Mark Twain's evil twin, a reverse negative Robert E. Lee, or a riverboat gambler on the river Styx. He looked dapper with shades, gloves and beard, and wielded his Shure55 vintage style mic with authority the entire night. He is a consummate front man, with great subtle moves and gestures that command attention.
His bellowing Gothic croon has lost none of its power and authority over the years. His fellow original member Captain Sensible, guitar in hand, staggered onstage, having tumbled of the stage at a recent show resulting in bruised ribs. Wearing a striped shirt, zippered tartan pants, hi top sneakers, and a vest (with well over 20 items of flair), shades, and trademark red beret, he looked amazing in all his royal punk attired splendor. Like a king he then ascended to sit on his throne, in this case a toilet, an actual toilet, on a riser, where he held court throughout the show.
This being the band's 40th anniversary tour, they did a fine job of showcasing the songs and elements of what the band is about. Great driving punk songs that stretch beyond the stereotype and a great wit and comedic flair. The songs rolled out fast and hard "Generals" with its biting guitar stabs, was followed by the appearance of a absurdly small disco ball for "Disco Man." "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" a spirited cover of LOVE's "Alone again Or" were followed by the band's "Love Song" where Vanian became a whirling dervish. "Second Time Around" and a swirling "Street of Dreams" all delivered.
The show went off the mark a bit with "Eloise", it was rushed, the signature keyboard blitz buried, and Vanian didn't seem to go low enough register on the bellowing chorus, but toward the end the band attacked it with gusto.
Appropriately the show really kicked in with "Ignite" the crowd was in full fervor chanting the song's "Whoa Ohs" which seemed to fire up the band even more. From the hard groove of "Stranger On the Town" to "Plan 9 Channel 7" the band was on fire. Captain Sensible providing searing guitar solos on a virtuoso level more Jimmy Page than Johnny Ramone, but with snarling punk attitude.
>Between songs the band is hilarious with their onstage banter. Vanian's "Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man?" intro of "Waiting For the Blackout" to Captain Sensible proclaiming "It's not my Fault" before launching into "History of the World" were just a few of some of the witty banter thrown around.
Some of the pauses between songs were a bit long and some of the banter was not clear, but there was plenty of things to laugh at. When Captain Sensible returned onstage for one of the encores Vanian referred to him as "The King of England, returning to his throne" and as one song reached a crescendo Dave exclaimed "Top of the World Ma!" it was clear this was a band enjoying themselves and this spilled over to the crowd the entire evening.
The band delivered a one two punch with "New Rose" (which featured Monty taking center stage for a joyous free form freak out dance) to a savage "Neat Neat Neat." These two songs are among the best, and most well known songs, a tough act to follow, but returning the band tore through the rockabilly push of "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" with Captain taking lead vocals. "Nasty" and "Noise Noise Noise" followed, with the band playing the atmospheric instrumental Part 1 of "Smash it Up" building it up before tearing the roof of with the better known Part 2.
The band focused heavily on their early years, especially their debut album and the seminal "Machine Gun Etiquette." Their spirit of irreverence is alive and well, Sensible took swipes at Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and at Mumford & Sons with the same venom. He stated "I went to Dealy plaza today, and this song sprang to mind" before the band played "Born to Kill." "Fan Club" "written in 1523" claimed Sensible.
The band returned for another encore for a blistering "Anti pope." The band delivered on every level and they can't come back soon enough. They were among the first, they are still one of the best, and I hope this wont be the last time we see them.