What a band chooses as their walk-on music always says a huge amount about the show that the audience is about to receive, and a punkified version of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King gave us all the information we needed about what the next hour and a half was going to be like. The Damned’s backdrop (a gothic-ish rendering of their name) was shuffled onto the stage as the tempo got more frantic, and the band walked out to a warm reception from fans who’d evidently been waiting a lot longer than the 45 minutes after Johnny Moped had finished to see The Damned again.
In the first half an hour, The Damned moved effortlessly between old and new material, opening with ‘We’re So Nice’ from their greatly anticipated, Tony Visconti-produced 2018 release Evil Spirits, and transitioned seamlessly into ‘Born to Kill’ from their debut 1977 album Damned Damned Damned – purportedly the first punk album released in the UK. Towards the middle of the set, it was noticeable that the band had settled into their older material; the tempo was upped and the crowd more involved. It’s not as if the old songs are much better than any of the band’s 21st century releases; it’s more that their 70s and 80s albums have a different energy, a more impatient, heated drive – but The Damned definitely haven’t gone soft. Dave Vanian’s baritone still sounded strong, and he was moving about the stage like a much younger man, his rapport with Captain Sensible and the rest of the band obviously born of a great love of playing and performing with one another.
Taking something already great and having fun with it, as with their choice of walk-on music, seems to encapsulate what The Damned are about. It not that the band don’t take themselves seriously; their performance is tight, considered and evidently incredibly well rehearsed – and after years of playing together, albeit with an ever rotating line-up, you’d expect nothing less. It’s that they have a sense of humour about what they do; case in point, their second encore consisted of them rehashing their famous ‘There aint no sanity clause’ as ‘There ain’t no Santa Claus’, complete with Father Christmas hats and healthy amount of distaste for the festive season.
Being at the O2 on Saturday night felt a little bit like a ghost of Christmas future situation for me – a brief glimpse into what I have to expect from going to gigs in my 50s and 60s – but unlike Scrooge, I can’t wait.