The Damned/Swingin' Utters
Galaxy Concert Theatre
Friday, Sept. 28

You might think, upon seeing the Galaxy's thimble-sized mixed drinks, that you could safely toss back a series of them without even beginning to feel drunk. I mean, that's what my friend and I thought when we went, along with the rest of Orange County, to see the Damned on Friday night, and one minute, we're thinking that, and the next minute, she's complaining that she's lost her earplugs and I'm fishing around in my purse and pulling out tampons and giving them to her, and she's putting them in her ears, and we're both thinking it's a good idea.

Much of the night is hazy, but this I know: Damned lead singer Dave Vanian is a sexy bastard despite the fact that he wears the waist of his pants really, really high and tucks his ruffley purple shirt into said high pants. Also, he's incredibly pale and little and dances funny. But he's hot! I do not know how he does it. These things should conspire against him, and yet they don't. "He's hanging to the right," drawled my friend, who requested that if she was mentioned in this story her name should be Clarise. ("But you have to say it like 'Hello, Clarise,' she said, doing her best Anthony-Hopkins-in-Silence-of-the-Lambs impression.)

The Damned, four-fifths of them in sunglasses, opened with "Democracy," the lead track from their new album, Grave Disorder, recently released on the Offspring's Dexter Holland's Nitro label. And, no, none of the Offspring was in the house, in case you're wondering. "Thank you. Let's go surfing," said Vanian, before playing "Song.com," which is a clever (almost too clever) poppy skewering of Internet addicts featuring surfy background vocals and an extremely catchy chorus. "We've got a new album; it's called Grave Disorder. It only took us 12 years," head-to-toe leopard-print-clad guitar player Captain Sensible said later in the set. He then thanked "America's guitar revival" and chastised England, which is "gripped with disco fever," and called them "fucking wankers." "He oozes class, this man," said Vanian, gesturing toward Captain Sensible, who later took the stage in a skirt and wig. (They're British, though, so it sounded more like "He oozes clahss. . . .")

The Damned are a tiny bit incendiary. "In 1977, when punk started," said the Captain, "I never thought I'd be standing here with a skirt on, but fuck John Lennon—what a tosser!" Okay, it's possible the unbelievably tiny yet strong drinks had some strange effect on my notes, as the preceding appears to be a non sequitur and I can't remember if that's what he said, or if he said a whole bunch of stuff in the middle that I chose, for important reasons (like being distracted by Clarise accidentally shoving a straw up her nose), not to record.

Regardless, the Damned have a few bones to pick with Lennon, which they do eloquently on their new song, "Would You Be So Hot," which poses the pertinent and yet saucy question "Would you be so hot if you weren't dead?" ("Suddenly, you are twice the man you used to be," the song begins).

Right around the time Clarise asked if she could instead be Eloise ("It's very close to Clarise," she reasoned), I noticed that the keyboard player, who was wearing this loud 1980s-era black T-shirt with skulls silk-screened all over it, vaguely resembles Screech from Saved by the Bell. He, like Vanian, is not afraid to unleash his fancy footwork.

The problem with the Galaxy when it's sold out (as it was on this night) is that it's just so easy to people-watch. No matter where you stand (unless you're right up front, smushed against the stage and looking up at the performers), you just know there's probably some kind of interesting something or other going on behind you or to your left or right, and so you spend some time watching the stage, but then you feel compelled to look around constantly as well. You might think this is just me, but it's not! I defy you to go to the Galaxy when it's sold out and packed with liberty-spiked punks both young and old and not feel your attention constantly drawn from the stage.

Before the Damned, the Swingin' Utters played a set of melodic Pogues-sounding snotty punk, which was more melodic than snotty although I'd still put them in the snotty punk genre, if snotty punk included Social Distortion, whom they sound a bit like. The wry singer did all sorts of windmills and jumps and kicks and said things in between songs like, "Aw, mellow out; it's just a fucking song," and "This will touch your sensitive side." The bass player is Spike from Me First and the Gimee Gimees, who do punk covers of standards and whose rendition of "Over the Rainbow" can be heard currently in a commercial that's escaping me right now. Priceline? A car company?

I missed Pleasure Forever, who performed before Swinging Utters, because they went on at, like, 8 p.m., which is when I curl my eyelashes. I really wanted to see them, too, as their new Sub Pop album is dark and dirgy and sinewy and melodic. I probably would have been disappointed, though; I suspect they wear their pants pretty low on their waists.


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