The Damned w/ The Dictators at The Observatory, San Diego, California, 05/23/2023

All Photos: Patrick Dickson

“Finally!” I said to myself. Ever since The Damned announced their “farewell” tour in 1989, I’ve been on a mission to see them live. The Damned, with their undeniable influence on Punk, Goth, and Deathrock, has been a must-see for me since the day I saw them perform Nasty on The Young Ones back in the 80s. And for all the tours that have come and gone since then, I wasn’t interested in missing them for an eighth time. So, after many missed opportunities, I, at last, got the chance to see London’s pride and joy punkers in my hometown at the good ol’ Observatory.

Starting off the night were some stateside-based rockers back in action after a long hiatus: The Dictators (not to be confused with The Dictators NYC). This NYC proto-punk band has seen its changes since it first started in 1973, and the lineup for this night included: Andy Shernoff (bass), Ross “The Boss” Friedman (lead guitar), Keith Roth (guitar and vocals), and Blue Öyster Cult alumnus Albert Bouchard (drums).

The band’s witty stage banter was obscured by some sound problems that were sorted out by the end of the first song. I love bands that don’t feel above a little self effacing humor. It’s even better when they know how to save a joke after it bombs. Match that with Bouchard’s habit of losing drumsticks throughout the set made for entertainment both seen and heard.

The noticeably older crowd got into it whether they were familiar with The Dictators’ oeuvre or not and everyone seemed to be digging it.

After a cover of the Velvet Underground’s What Goes On, the band wrapped up their set with the announcement that new material has been recorded and a new Dictators album can be expected by the end of the year.

Now… what I’ve waited over 30 years for. The Damned took the stage and proceeded to live up to their reputation as a solid and fun live act.

For starters, they looked like they haven’t lost a single step since their inception in 1976. They came onstage with a mutual playfulness that showed that they are still buddies as well as bandmates. Lead singer Dave Vanian looks like he hasn’t aged a bit with more energy than even I can muster these days; stalking the stage with animation, poise, and swagger. And his voice was spot-on and polished. Captain Sensible was wearing his signature red beret when he wasn’t wearing his guitar on his head. His wit was conveyed even when I couldn’t understand his accent. Monty Oxymoron looked like a cross between a hippie and a mad scientist as he held down the keys. Laidback bassist Paul Gray and left-handed drummer Will Taylor rounded out the night’s lineup.

Selections from Darkadelic, their newest release, were featured through the first half of the show and things got progressively heavier as the night went on from the polished refinement of later albums to the snarky angst of their early punk days.

Now I see what I’ve been missing. The Damned is nonstop fun to see live. When they’re not razzing each other (while wearing red rubber noses), they bring go-go dancers from the crowd onstage. When go-go dancers aren’t twerking alongside the band, Captain Sensible is revving up the crowd; cracking jokes in his cockney accent. When the Captain isn’t revving up the crowd, Oxymoron is dancing manically and maniacally across the stage.

The songs ran from classics like Neat Neat Neat which segued to tributes to The Doors and The Stooges. Favorites like Eloise and Smash It Up were featured, of course. They even threw in an improvised jam to open the second encore.

As the band wrapped up at last, Captain Sensible offered a parting thought with the declaration of, “We’ve still got it!”. Truer words were never spoken.

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