On a Tuesday afternoon, The Damned’s Dave Vanian walks around the Fillmore’s iconic poster room, surveying the historic artwork that adorn the walls. He reads some of the famous names that once graced the stage aloud, muttering, “Jimi, Janis, Jim.”
It’s a fitting scene. Just as those performers were instrumental in the development of the 1960s counterculture and rock movement, so too is The Damned, which is recognized and celebrated for its influence on the original punk movement.
The band is in the first week of a 30-date tour of the U.S. that marks the 40th anniversary of its debut album, Damned Damned Damned. And, despite the fact that four decades that have passed since they first formed, the group still performs with the same relentless vigor and vitality that they did in London while punk was still in its infancy.
Chatting before the show, the singer says that while he appreciates the attention the milestone is getting, he is more concerned with The Damned’s future than with nostalgia for the past.
“I don’t look back at our career,” Vanian says. “I’m more excited about making the new album right now. We’ve got loads of songs and material, [and] we’re trying to hone them down. We’re kind of delving into our roots a little bit. It’s going to be psychedelic and garage-y. …Damned albums are kind of weird, they kind of grow themselves.”
While The Damned have been cited by a wide variety of bands and artists as being highly influential — they were the first British punk band to release a single and an album, as well as tour the U.S. — they haven’t received the same amount of recognition in the mainstream media as other acts, such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Vanian says there were a variety of factors that may have led to that fact.
“I guess The Damned were outsiders, and we got kind of overlooked and pushed out, with a fair share of bad luck and stupidity on our part, too,” he says. “But now, people who don’t know who we are are starting to see the band in a totally different light.”
One recent event should garner the band a little more attention: Last week at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament wore a shirt he had made that featured a list of bands that he thought belonged there as well — one of them being The Damned. Vanian was pleased to hear about this and to learn that the band has had an impact on people’s lives over the years.
“That’s the biggest kind of accolade you can get,” he says. “Because that’s how it happened to me, listening to bands like The Seeds and The Doors and The Left Banke. They influenced my background.”
From the moment The Damned rushed the stage later in the evening, the show was a flurry of frenzied movement. Vanian careened about with his signature vintage-style microphone, while guitarist Captain Sensible, wearing a shirt emblazoned with the title of their song “Smash It Up,” flailed wildly on his Gibson SG. The foundations were provided by bassist Stu West, drummer Pinch, and keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, who although they are not original members, have been in the band for many years and sync up perfectly for the rhythm section.
In a nod to the venue’s storied history, the band played a blistering cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” with Captain Sensible proclaiming “Respect to the Fillmore!” before leading a boisterous sing along of “Jet Boy, Jet Girl.”
The audience was a scene of intense motion as well, with much of the crowd appearing as a sea of bobbing heads, with those in the front erupting into a mosh pit for classic tunes such as “Love Song,” “New Rose,” and “Neat Neat Neat.” The makeup of the crowd was wildly diverse, ranging from people that looked to be old-school fans from the ’70s, to kids that may have just discovered The Damned for the first time.
After playing for fans all around the world for 40 years and counting, Vanian is glad to see a variety of faces out in the crowd when he looks down from the stage every night, and that the punk spirit is still alive and well.
“As much as I love them, you don’t want to see the same audience at every single gig. You want to hope that you’re reaching a few new minds as well,” he says. “I always believed that if you really wanted to do something, and you believed you could do it and you tried hard enough, you could probably make it work.”