The Damned at The Fillmore, by Patric Carver
The Damned (photo: Patric Carver)

1976 was a bleak year in some ways. The Eagles released the lyrical mush “Hotel California” – the soupy go-nowhere tune that’s been over-celebrated by inebriated bar patrons for decades. The same year, The Eagles were also awarded the first platinum record (a new concept at the time) for Their Greatest Hits 1971 – 1975. Did I mention that Wings also released “Silly Love Songs” in 1976?

They had to be stopped, and this was too important a job to leave to lunatics like Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone. The world needed punk rock with longevity.

Enter The Damned, the band that would tap into the vein of much-needed grab-you-by-the-throat-and-shake-you-about sound and keep it bleeding for decades.

2017 is proving to be as bleak a year as any, musically and otherwise. Once again, The Damned provide their heavy black medicine to cure the ailments of the outcasts (and outcasts at heart) in a sick world. Last Tuesday, the Fillmore was packed with generations of punk rockers — from the balding tech worker with his faded, snug Damned shirt and brand-new Doc Martens boots on to the young tattooed couple with their pre-teen son, an anarchy symbol crudely drawn on his cheek in lip liner. The Damned concert proved to be a family affair — though leaning more towards the Addams Family than the Brady Bunch.

Punk rock is 50% sneering, fist-in-the-air rebellion from the status quo and 50% laughing at yourself (and, let’s face it, everyone else), and Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible are the ultimate odd couple. Lead singer Vanian (whose last name is a play on Transylvanian) is the grandfather of every goth kid that ever debated over which shade of black lipstick to wear. He’s a well-preserved relic from a pre-Twilight era when vampires skulked in dark corners instead of sparkled in the sun. (Oh, how I miss those times.) Captain Sensible, guitarist, donning his infamous red beret, is the perfect punk rock clown — spitting out bits of truthful commentary in his jokes like a Shakespearean jester. Sinister mixed with sarcastic, the pair has a stage presence that is infectious and engaging without pandering or being too playful.

But do they sound good?

Oh. Oh, yes. They sound amazing. Captain Sensible is one of those guitarists that melds with his instrument as if it were just part of his body — as if he were incomplete without it. They joked on stage about bringing only “two or three chords,” to the Fillmore that night, but that guitar — it was infinite.

Vanian’s voice is as hauntingly beautiful as ever. Strong and solid, Vanian charged through a 20-plus song set, his voice seeming to not only fill the theater space but actually expand it somehow. So many artists try to mask the faults in their voice by warbling through songs, as if forced vibrato was a substitution for endurance. There’s no need for that with Vanian. He’s a powerhouse. He’s got that broad, deep sound that Misfit-era Glen Danzig had, but with a simply lovely unpolished strength.

It was fun to hear them cover Love’s “Alone Again, Or…” and an epic rendition of Elton Motello’s “Jet Boy, Jet Girl.” There was one cover song that stole the show, though, a tremendous resurrection of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” I go to a lot of shows. I see a lot of bands. Their cover of that song is going to stay etched in the hallways of my grey matter until either senility or a shuffling of my own mortal coil wipes it away. Vanian’s outcry of “Feed your head,” flowed over the audience in like a wave of lava and pulled an otherwise rowdy audience in with a close, awe-struck hush.

Other highlights included their tear-down-the-wall versions of Damned classics “New Rose” and “Neat Neat Neat.” There wasn’t a dull moment during their gargantuan set, but these two songs managed to still stand out. There’s a flawlessness to their execution that’s exhibited in these songs. It’s nice to see what punk can be when the punks in question know how to sing and play their instruments. Vanian and company buried any suspicion that this crew has lost their edge.

As founding fathers of punk rock, the Damned have spawned many musical offspring through their massive influence, including opening band Bleached. Bleached performed a solid set, their sound reminiscent of Joan Jett post-Runaways or perhaps Suzi Quatro’s “Can the Can”-era work. They are somehow distinctly Californian, though, but without that chewing-gum-brat, skateboard-sister feel. I thoroughly enjoyed them. As much as I love the Donnas, it’s nice to see a punk band from California that isn’t trying to be the Donnas.

Jessica Clavin, guitarist for Bleached, spoke with me for a few moments after the show amongst the sea of empty plastic cups littering the Fillmore’s now-empty expansive theatre space.

The Bay Bridged: How did you all come together as a band?

Jessica Clavin: My sister and I played in a punk band in high school. We went through a lot of bassists and guitarists before we started working with Micayla and Nick. Then, we were solid. It just kind of took off from there.

TBB: Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of your band name, Bleached?

JC: Oh, yeah. It just seemed to be a great name. We grew up pretty punk, so we were bleaching everything — our hair, our clothes. It seemed like a good fit.

TBB: So, nothing to do with Nirvana’s Sub Pop album, Bleach?

JC: Oh, no.

TBB: I see you have some new work out yourself. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

JC: Yeah, it’s been a year since we released our last studio album, Welcome to the Worms. Last month we released an EP, Can You Deal?

TBB: I heard the EP comes with a zine of the same name and the net proceeds of the zine sales go to Planned Parenthood. How did you all decide to set up with fundraiser for Planned Parenthood?

JC: Well, the title, Can You Deal? is based on the song. It just kind of came to us. My sister and I, and our bassist, Micayla, were girls in a band, and we’re sick of the novelty of being reduced to just girls in a band. When people talk to us, they want to know about what it’s like for ladies to be in a band. We’re musicians! All people want to know about is our gender. For the zine, we decided to get some other artists’ opinions about this. It was a great experience. We got so many different perspectives. Donating to Planned Parenthood just seemed to fit.

TBB: How did you come to play with the Damned?

JC: So, we got asked. It was really surprising. We’ve covered a Damned song on a 7”, but we were really wondering how we got asked. Apparently, they had a selection of bands they listened to when deciding on an opening band and they picked us!

TBB: How did you enjoy playing the Fillmore?

JC: It was great. This is an amazing city. Jen, my sister, was born here. It’s great.

Nick Pillot (drummer): Hands down, my favorite city. Coit Tower? Emerging from the fog? The best.

JC: Yeah, we had the best time.