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Damned at Koko: Review

Damned at Koko: A Review by Nic Howden

Organised chaos… 

“Tony Visconti’s here somewhere,” Captain Sensible, the perennial Dennis the Menace figure in The Damned, announces during the band’s set at Koko.  “Said he’d like to buy you all a beer. So do ask if you see him.” 
Visconti produced the forthcoming album, Evil Spirits. Despite the fact it was written fast, never mind the 10 plus years since the last one, and recorded in just nine New York days and nights, Visconti’s blindingly bright star has given The Damned a timely lift. Together with returning bass-maestro Paul Gray, who anchored the Black Album and Strawberries early-80s era Damned highlights, it’s served to shake up/smash up the setlist.
Beckoned on by a sequence from The Planets, Sensible makes his way across the stage with tissues held to his nose throwing them into the front row as drummer Pinch kicks off Wait for the Blackout. Dave Vanian, in black gloves, takes the mic and we're off. 
Since their celebrated, sell-out Albert Hall 40th-anniversary, The Damned do the back catalogue in era chunks, a bit like The Cure. At Koko, five of the first six songs are from the Black Album, punctuated by new single Standing At The Edge of Tomorrow. 
The most conservative thing about The Damned is their audience. They want the ‘anarchy and chaos’ ad infinitum, while the band, for all Sensible’s repartee and Vanian’s part-panto goth shapes, would be very happy to focus on their ‘new direction’. Look away now nostalgists, they’re fabulous musicians these days who dumb it down for the dollar.
By way of compromise, we get three off Evil Spirits, SATEOT  - there’s a T shirt on the merch stand bearing that awkward acronym - heartfelt anti-Trump rant Devil in Disguise and title track Evil Spirits, which has lots of lead guitar, something The Damned tore to bits in ‘76/’77. Aptly perhaps Smash It Up sits hard on its heels. 
Vanian had a bad cold at the beginning of the week, which led to the Southampton gig being pulled. Sensible is suffering too, albeit in the thick of his undiminished showmanship and bonhomie, but The Damned haven’t sounded quite this sharp, this vital, for ages. Much of that is down to the equally beret-clad Gray. 
The set is shaped around his three years with the band but he brings a new edge to golden even ‘oldie(r)’ numbers like Anti-Pope, ‘religion doesn’t mean a thing, it’s just another way of being right wing’, New Rose, Love Song et al, clutched together mid-set. 
Gray blends brilliantly both with Pinch, who he didn’t know pre-Evil Spirits, and his good friend the Captain, bringing (back) a whole other Damned dimension. 
Jet Boy Jet Girl follows a riotous Smash It Up and The Damned are done at Koko. The UK leg of the Evil Spirits tour finished around the corner at the Forum the following night, while the LP, Visconti at the controls, lands in April. In the meantime though, thanks, very much, for the night. 

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