Wednesday 23rd of November 2016 and The Damned played in Norwich. I first saw The Damned in 1981 on The Black Album tour and over the intervening 35 years have seen them more times than I can actually remember. Far from being a pantomime version of themselves they are a genuinely thrilling live act with a rich back catalogue of black-diamond encrusted classics. This year they filled The Royal Albert Hall so the chance to see them at the intimate Waterfront venue whilst sharing a beer with some old & very splendid friends seemed like a case of “why would we consider doing anything else?”
Wifey and I have seen Savages twice already this year (Cambridge, London) and we saw them last year as well. They were playing the same night as The Damned.
We went to Savages – barely a decision to make. Savages are that good. Savages are so good that the first time we saw them Wifey (stone cold sober, tougher than most, seen most bands worth seeing) started to cry. We went to the London show with a long-time mate who pre-show dismissed them as, “a bit too Banshees a bit too Joy Division.” Post show he was a babbling, beautiful mess of awe-inspired enthusiasm. “They were fu-king brilliant!” he said. And they were and they are.
For a start, Fay is a cracking drummer all energy and sharp discipline, Ayse on bass has the perfect ability to mix effortless cool with a monstrous, floor vibrating assault and Gemma wrings such sounds out of her guitars that you find yourself looking to see who else is playing. There is no one else playing. And she does that bottom end of the fretboard torturing that made The Dead Kennedys so terrifying. They are military precision tight and (let’s not be shy about this) they look amazing. They dress in black and white, the lights (except for a pale orange glow on Adore) are only ever white spots, glows and strobes. Check out this 1½ hour clip, move it to any point and try and tell me they don’t look like they mean fucking business.
Right Jehnny Beth: there is no point pretending I’m not a bit in love with her. I am. And so is my wife. And so is anyone who has ever seen Savages live who isn’t horrible. Her cheek bones, her intensity, her feline grace, her speaking voice, her singing voice, her fierce confidence, her other-worldly eyes, the fact that she can be heart stopping scary and then warm and lovely with a nothing more than a hand gesture and a tilt of her head between one and the other.
Jehnny Beth moulded this typical Norwich crowd: stage front was a little sparse, people were watching from the stairs around the dance floor. After starting with two killers (Shut Up / City’s Full) she said, “You’re quiet” and everybody thought, “Welcome to Norfolk”. Half an hour later she was presiding over a seething, feral, berserk mass of lads and lasses with wide grins and bursting hearts. Jehnny Beth’s crowd control is such that she can cajole one into a frenzy then stage-dive in and end up right back where she needs to be. And she can hold a silence for seconds longer than most front persons would dare. Leave a silence in a song and some dick will whistle or whoop but with a raise of a hand and a dark flicker in her eye the silence held until we all realised we weren’t even breathing. They finished with Fuckers, a ten minute monster of a song that begins as a whisper and ends in a fevered, triumphant apocalypse.
Such is the all-encompassing intensity of the Savages live experience we drove home elated via The Waterfront and it was only then I remembered that The Damned (soundtrack to most of my life) had even been in town.