Review by Ian Savage, photos by Mark Lloyd
The last two shows this reviewer was party to at the Wulfrun were Skid Row/Ugly Kid Joe and Black Star Riders last month: two packed-out nights which make walking in to see Black Country veterans Goats Don’t Shave opening up to a bare few dozen people slightly disorienting.
The band have a decent enough line in stubbornly old-school punk interspersed with off-the-wall 30s-style tunes like ‘Barroom Blues’, and handle the stage as well as their 30-year pedigree suggests they should – the few who have ventured out early to see them are clearly either dyed-in-the-goat’s-wool fans or hoping to stake their claim on a barrier spot for the headliners though. GDS put in a solid enough effort, closing with the very-80s very-West Midlands ‘Tarrah Trace’, but the numbers are against them tonight.
Ruts DC (the ‘DC’ standing for ‘de capa’, meaning ‘back to the beginning’, fact fans) are an intriguing proposition on this bill; before they even hit the stage there are spike-haired 40-somethings in the smoking area bemoaning the fact that they’re “not the real Ruts” and plenty of arms-crossed ‘impress me’ stances across the by now thankfully bolstered crowd inside. From the outset the band DO impress though – oozing Caribbean authenticity despite their 3/4 ‘old white guy’ lineup they deftly step between ska, punk and reggae with the prowess of Jonah Lomu breaking through a French defensive line.
‘Second’ vocalist Molera Awen is the ace in Ruts DC’s hand, her passionate, soulful voice lifting the band above the norm and lending extra gravitas to songs like ‘Mighty Soldier’ and ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’. Refreshingly still political after all these years (Segs: “we’re anti-ignorance, not anti-police”) RDC potentially lose a few people with some extended breakdown sections, but pull them ALL back when they hurtle into ‘Babylon’s Burning’ and finish up with ‘In A Rut’, providing a superb warmup for the main men of this evening…
…who inexplicably enter with a whimper rather than a bang. The low-key goth-tinged keyboard intro has The Damned stepping onstage individually rather than as a unit, and seems to take the crowd collectively aback as they struggle to find their bouncing point. It takes the hammerhead intro of ‘Wait For The Blackout’ to get people moving, raising questions about the wisdom of the slightly ‘stadium-rock’ setup onstage; surely a band like this don’t need rear-projection screens to get their point across?
There’s an uncomfortable sense of going through the motions from The Damned tonight. Sure, the hits are all there (‘Ignite’, ‘Generals’, ‘Eloise’), and the trademark suit-and-gloves/beret-and-striped-shirt from Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible respectively are present and correct, but what inter-song banter there is seems scripted at best or is lost to the sub-standard out-front sound at worst, and the performance as a whole comes across as a little forced.
Occasional flashes of brilliance during ‘Love Song’ and ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ only serve to underline the mediocrity of the rest of the set; as much as Sensible swings his microphone stand into the crowd it can’t mask the feeling of a band back-pocketing their money and moving on to the next town. From an audience perspective, the punters leaving halfway-through, taking mid-song cigarette breaks or coming back from the bar with the look of war veterans returning to the front line says it all – tonight is far below what The Damned are capable of.
They finally start pulling the stops at least half-way out for ‘New Rose’ and ‘Sick Of Being Sick’ and encore tune ‘Smash It Up’, but it’s too little too late – the show has already been stolen by Ruts DC’s far more relevant and impassioned offerings, and even the most ardent Damned fans this reviewer spoke to agree that the latter part of the evening was little more than a nostalgia show. C’mon boys, you can do better than this.
See more of Mark’s photos here;