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Hits or Miss



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    When they were good, they were great. When they were bad, they were groove-killingly boring.

    The punks, the goths and the goth-punks all went to the Black Cat to see the Damned Tuesday night. I mean all of them. I expected some to be sprinkled in among the old-timers tripping down memory lane, but no. The costume punks outnumbered the grays and balds. Hence, beer was served in plastic cups rather than bottles and glasses. I even saw a couple of Styrofoam cups. I even saw a punk smash a Styrofoam cup over a goth's head! OK, not really.

    The Damned -- the first UK punk band to release a single or an LP, and the one that proved most malleable over the years (sometimes unfortunately so) -- started great with the one-two punch that opened their 1979 album "Machine Gun Etiquette": "Love Song" and "Machine Gun Etiquette." Throughout the set, their classic, decades old material sounded great, including "Machine Gun Etiquette's" "Noise, Noise, Noise." That legendary first single, 1976's "New Rose," whipped the crowd into a frenzy and found the band at its most raucous.

    But more recent material sounds decidedly un-Damned, including their cover of Love's "Alone Again Or" from their '86 record "Anything." That's a great song, though, and was played well, but it was followed by something from December's "So, Who's Paranoid," and it's just not the Damned I know and love. The new songs sounded like the Damned attempting a rock opera, and it just impeded the movement of the set. Dave Vanian's got the voice for it, though -- only Glenn Danzig ever had a better true singing voice as far as punk bands go. Before "Dr. Woofenstein" -- that title alone screams, "We ran out of ideas!" -- guitarist Captain Sensible acknowledged that people have a tendency to hit the bathroom or bar when an old band announces they're playing a new song but assured us it was a good one. He lied.

    At times the band even disrupted the movement of their classic songs. They turned into  the Jamned (friend Jarrod's term, not mine) with their "You baby!" breakdown in "Looking at You" and the stretch of "Light My Fire" they squeezed into the middle of "Neat Neat Neat," from their '77 debut LP. They always were the punk rock Doors. Vanian always was a Jim Morrison disciple. Their extended jamns offered evidence of why they're also known as the psychedelic punk band.

    Opening their encore with another slow jamn almost derailed the end of the show, too. Even when the punk rock came back, I was drained, but they won me back with a closing one-two to match the opening. "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" got the energy going again, and "Smash It Up" did what it always does. That is, it made me want to break stuff.

    Glad I saw the show, and most of it sounded great, but it probably closes my Damned book, especially if they insist on making new music.

    And one more note: Got a kick out of watching Vanian and the Captain, the only remaining originals in the band, battle with a laptop through which they were trying to broadcast the set. Wish I'd had my camera.