The Snarky Iconoclasts

The Damned got a lot of first kills back when punk lurched into the spotlight: first band in the first wave to get a single and later a full-length on vinyl; first band to tour the U.S. and give the yokels a glimpse of the real thing; first British punk band to break up and then reunite—all before 1979.

And now they might have a new one: first punk band to write songs on a Sony PlayStation.

“People think we're going soft,” admits guitarist Captain Sensible, speaking from stately Sensible Manor in dewy old England. “I assure you we're not. I got thrown out of a pub last week—I still got it!”

But the PlayStation thing? That's not going soft—that's streamlining. The Captain remembers 1,000-per-day studio long hauls that couldn't boast half the bells and whistles of some program for their game system. So when their drummer Pinch debuted his new digital composition “W” after a grueling session of joystick-twiddling, it sounded just right. “I think most people in bands are kind of games junkies,” says the Captain. “We play racing games all through the night: Gran Turismo, all the Sega racing games, Metro Street Races. . . Anyway, what was I talking about?

“If somebody had shown producers this PlayStation program 25 years ago, they'd be aghast, wouldn't they?” the Captain asks. “They'd throw their hands in the air and run out into the street screaming, 'Get me a bottle of absinthe!' Anyone who wants to make music now can do it: you can buy a digital machine for $1,000 and have better equipment than they used to make Sgt. Pepper. There's no shame in saying we write songs on a PlayStation—in fact, we're proud of it!”

They're proud of the new album Grave Disorder (on local boy Dexter Holland's Nitro label), too, which is alive with the snarky iconoclasm that's something of a mark of the Damned. Garnering generally positive reviews from the punk press and even the skeptical guys at the record store, Disorder features probably the stablest lineup in years and marks a keyboard-spangled return to Goth-punk form, even if they are writing songs on a PlayStation. And although original drummer Rat Scabies is sadly long gone, the recently damned Pinch, keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron and bassist Patricia Morrison (from the Gun Club, Sisters of Mercy and the fabulous Bags) shore up the renewed chemistry between old veterans the Captain and singer Dave Vanian quite nicely.

“Working with Dave again, it's like the intervening 10 years never happened—it's just a natural kind of thing,” says the Captain. “I know what he does; he knows what I do. There's a thing in the Damned, a romantic kind of melancholy I quite dig. It's kind of fun to reacquaint ourselves with the process. I do like writing songs with him in mind—he's a pretty good singer. You wouldn't think it was the same bloke who sang on [debut album] Damned Damned Damned all those years ago. I think he's been listening to Dean Martin, personally.”

It might be a little more neat-neat-neat than noise-noise-noise these days, though. Remember the Damned that released such high-speed records that critics accused them of fiddling with the master tapes? Or the Damned whose concerts used to attract decency-minded protesters? Or the Damned that would toss buckets full of dirty water out the dressing room window onto waiting crowds (“Standing in the pissing rain/Must be a drag,” smirked Vanian in the song “Fan Club”)? The Captain doesn't sometimes because he was too busy flailing around in the middle of it to keep track of the piddling details. But he's got plenty of new stories that sound just as good as the old ones.

“It's been a bizarre and chaotic career, if you want to call it a career—with the Damned, whatever happens, happens,” says the Captain. “We played once in Phoenix, and it was a seated venue, and I thought, 'Wow, this is really strange for the Damned.' So I said, 'Come on, don't worry about the bouncers! Come up here onstage, and let's have a bloody laugh!' And the entire audience jumps on the fucking stage, every piece of equipment gets destroyed, and they run out the bloody doors with drums, guitars, everything they could possibly take—and that was the end of the gig. It cost us thousands—fucking thousands!—all because of me and my big mouth! It was a particularly hot day—that was my excuse. We're not used to that sort of thing. We're British.”

The Damned perform with the Swinging Utters and Pleasure Forever at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; Fri., 8 p.m. $22.50. All ages.

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