Academy, Leeds, UK
17th November 2016
It’s been a long time since I ventured over the Pennines to see a band in Leeds, but the double bill of The Damned and Penetration at the Academy is something that’s worth making the journey for, especially when you consider that both of these bands were amongst my personal highlights from the Rebellion Festival earlier this year. 2016 is the fortieth anniversary of punk rock, fittingly both of tonight’s bands were formed in punk’s year zero and have come together for a few dates on this tour, the support seems to be constantly changing across The Damned‘s sprawling fortieth anniversary tour but for me Penetration are the pick of the bunch.
The crowd for tonight’s show at the Leeds Academy is one that’s as varied as The Damned‘s back catalogue, it seems to cover everything from young converts in their teens up to those in advancing years who have been amongst the faithful since the early days, rockers sporting pristine quiff’s mingle with punks and goths, all of whom have one unifying reason to be here, to see two of the last bands standing from the first wave of punk. The music that precedes the appearance of Penetration is an odd choice, some authentic growled blues from straight outta the delta, which seems somewhat at odds with the bands playing tonight
Penetration arrive on the stage with no fanfare, they saunter onstage, plug in, and after a brief tune up they launch into Just Drifting, they sound even better than they did when I saw them earlier this year at the Rebellion Festival, in particular Pauline Murray‘s unique and striking vocal style sounds better than ever. Aguila, Betrayed! and Beat Goes On build on the promising start, the tracks all feature soaring choruses and build up the intensity of the set nicely. It’s a tribute to the strength of the material on their 2015 comeback album, Resolution, that so far their set hasn’t featured a single track from either of their classic Moving Targets or Coming Up For Air albums.
Of course you couldn’t have a 40th anniversary of punk tour without Penetration revisiting their glory days, Pauline Murray announces that they’re now going to play the “old stuff” and what this signifies is a run through some of the bands best know material, the Buzzcocks classic Nostalgia is faithfully delivered, which is a song that Manchester’s finest often neglect from their set list and is one that Penetration have made their own, this is followed by Come Into The Open and, what is largely regarded as their classic single, Don’t Dictate. This perfect three minutes from the dawn of punk is their best known track, and it’s defiant refrain seems to defrost the Leeds crowd.
Penetration close their set with another of their best loved singles, Danger Signs, tonight their set was markedly split between their new material and that which is drawn from their original early albums. Their comeback album was such a strong return to form that I’d bet that if you were unfamiliar with the band I doubt you’d have been unable to tell where the join between the two elements of the set were. I’d have quite happily paid to see Penetration on their own, and they deservedly received a genuinely warm reception from The Damned‘s faithful, and their set marked a perfect start to an evening that is celebrating punk hitting it’s 40th anniversary
As good as Penetration were let’s make no mistake why the majority of people are here tonight, The Damned were the first of the punk bands to do just about everything, first to release a single and album, tour the USA, split up and reform, and it seems ironic that the band who did everything first are now the last men standing. Prior to The Damned taking the stage the prog rock strains of Emerson, Lake and Palmer‘s Fanfare For The Common Man belt’s out of the PA for a few minutes, the reason for this becomes clear as Captain Sensible takes to the stage and bellows “turn that shit off” and promptly goes into a lengthy diatribe against the self indulgent rock bands of the 1970’s, and in particular against Phil Collins.
Tonight’s show opens with their second single, Neat Neat Neat, and The Damned are kicking things off tonight’s with a faithful run through of the majority of tracks from their debut album, Damned Damned Damned. As much as the well known tracks and singles from the album sound as good as the day they were recorded, including the very first punk single, New Rose, it’s the lesser known and often neglected tracks that are the highlight for me. Songs such as Born To Kill, Feel The Pain, Fish and So Messed Up all get a welcome and rare outing, although Stab Your Back is sadly neglected, and it’s hearing these tracks that makes the run though of this classic album so welcome.
The Damned‘s keyboard player, Monty Oxymoron, has little to do during the opening full throttle run through of their debut album, instead he contents himself with acting out the songs and bouncing around behind his keyboards. The Damned have never had a unified or co-ordinated image, as many of their peers did, and tonight is no exception, you have the dual lunacy of the aforementioned keyboardist and Captain Sensible, the restrained cool of bassist Stu West, the Vegas chic of drummer Pinch and tonight Dave Vanian is exuding preacher cool. The run through of the opening set ends with a truly bezerk rendition of The Stooges proto punk classic I Feel Alright.
The Damned don’t leave the stage as many band’s do in shows of this type, Dave Vanian announces that they’re now going to be “peeling back the pages of the diary” and they launch into Street Of Dreams from 1985’s Phantasmagoria, from this point on we’re in for a somewhat haphazard retrospective run through their extensive back catalogue. Nasty, the song that introduced me to the band when they appeared on the anarachic sitcom The Young Ones, gets a welcome airing as does Amen, from the much underrated 2001 album Grave Disorder, this marks the end of the later material as we head back into a riotous sprint of some of their best loved material.
After some entertaining exchanges about now infamous celebrities of the 1970’s they launch into a frantic rendition of the lead track from 1981’s Friday 13th EP, Disco Man, which is followed by their sole top ten single, 1986’s Eloise. They dip into 1982’s Strawberries album with a raucous Ignite which is complimented by two of the more introspective tracks from that release, Under The Floor Again and Life Goes On, the latter of which won a vote amongst the audience as to which track featuring Captain Sensible on vocals should be played. I’m just grateful we didn’t end up with his 1982 novelty hit, Happy Talk, which he happily admits he did for the money “I was a toilet cleaner from Croyden, what do you expect me to do if someone offers me forty grand”
You get the impression The Damned are enjoying themselves immensely tonight, this, and the fact there’s finally a new album in the pipeline, indicates they are entering into something of a renaissance. Their psychedelic punk masterpiece, 1980’s The Black Album, is only briefly touched upon with Wait For The Blackout before we hit the material from the legendary Machine Gun Etiquette album, Love Song, Anti Pope, I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, which was dedicated to the people of the USA in light of recent events, the superb Plan 9 Channel 7 and finally, and inevitably, Smash It Up signals the end of the set and sets the mosh pit alight.
They return for a further encore, although we don’t get the expected delivery of the majestic Curtain Call, that has been the encore for the majority of the shows this year, and was written on the set list. Instead we get their unique rendition of Jefferson Airplane‘s White Rabbit, a one off single from 1980. The set list has now gone out of the window and we get rousing versions of Melody Lee and Noise Noise Noise, both from Machine Gun Etiquette, to finally close what has been a triumphant set that has spanned four decades in a little over two hours, the venue’s curfew was ignored and it seems that The Damned are well and truly back in business.
Tonight was a fine retrospective of the bands career, a few of their albums were overlooked, 1977’s Music For Pleasure, 1986’s Anything, 1995’s Not Of This Earth and 2008’s So, Who’s Paranoid, but the quality of material on display from their classic albums more than makes up for the absences, the only thing missing was some new material, but with a new album in the pipeline it would appear that The Damned have no intention of going quietly into the night just yet, on the basis of tonight’s show you really should try and catch this flashback from one of the most creative and consistent bands born of punk’s first wave.
The Damned‘s tour dates for the UK, Spain and the USA can be found here
You can pre-order The Damned’s new album via Pledge Music here
Penetration‘s Facebook page can be found here
Photography by Steve White and you visit his Flickr site here
you can click on any of Steve White’s photos to view a slide show of the images