The Damned Celebrate The 40th Anniversary Of “Machine Gun Etiquette” In Costa Mesa
COSA MESA, CA– “Ladies and Gentlemen, How do?” Those are the unforgettable opening words from The Damned’s iconic album “Machine Gun Etiquette”. It’s an album that has stood the test of time, at for its 40th anniversary, The Damned brought the celebration to Southern California with a special concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, Ca. The were joined by X and the Reverend Horton Heat.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this was not just some regular show. This was a legendary event.
People from all over the country congregated at the PAC Amp for what would be an epic night of music and friendship. These 3 legendary bands, proved, without a shadow of a doubt, why their life-long fans will always love them and why new fans will be forever changed by the music they have written and recorded.
The first act to take the stage was the Reverend Horton Heat and he kicked off the epic night with a rocking performance of “Psychobilly Freakout”: a raucous signature song for the band. The trio, led by Jim Heath on guitar and vocals with Jimbo Wallace on Upright Bass, Arjuna “RJ” Contraras and guest piano player, Lance Lipinsky, performed a blistering array of psychobilly from their repertoire. From the photo pit, you could see Dave Vanian, the Captain and one-time Damned tour bass player and Cadillac Tramp, Warren Renfrow watching with glee from the side stage.
Other highlights from the set were, “Let me teach you how to Eat,” “400 bucks,” (a personal favorite). “Whole New Life” and “Hate to See You Cry” off of their 2018 release, “Whole New Life.”
After sharing a story of touring with the late, great Lemmy Kilmister, the Rev and Crew threw down a rousing rendition of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Though their set was short- approximately 30 minutes in length- they proved it is not length of time that makes a show, but the quality of music and the passion it embodies. It’s always good to see the Reverend Horton Heat. I look forward to the next one.
The legendary band, X, hit the stage next. The L.A. punk pioneers still consist of all 4 original members: the venerable John Doe on Bass and vocals, songstress Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom on Guitar and Sax and drummer DJ Bonebreak. They celebrated their 40th anniversary as a band in 2017 with a tour that lasted through 2018.
They opened their set with “Beyond and Back.“ During the second song “It’s Who You Know,” Exene, playfully gave a few photographers in the photo pit, close-up shots of her face. They also performed “Because I Do” which happened to be one of my all-time favorites. I remember the video of Exene as the Ghost of a woman who wants to “haunt your heart.”
Their hour-long set was a career spanning odyssey of hits and fan favorites. They are a band that has touched several genres with skilled songwriting and beloved covers, including Jerry Lee Lewis’, “Breathless” and the Doors “Soul Kitchen.” Other highlights of their 18 song set were, “The New World,” “Year 1” and “True Love.” John Doe introduced, Craig Packham to take over drum duties as D.J. Bonebreak moved over to the vibes for the dreamy “Come Back To Me.” This also featured Billy Zoom on Sax.
Bonebreak returned to his kit and the band dove into the more fast-paced rockers with “Some Other Time.” The familiar and well-loved syncopated opening of their seminal song, “Los Angeles” was next. This is the song that started it all for me. Even if you’ve never listened to their catalog, you’ve heard this song. It’s a classic. The well rounded set continued with “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not,” “Nausea,” “Johnny Hit & Run Pauline” and “Motel Room in My Bed.” The aforementioned Doors cover, “Soul Kitchen” and “The Hungry Wolf” closed out their time on stage. It was a superb musical display of the legendary band’s discography.
If you ask me who the most influential bands in my musical landscape are, The Damned is easily at the top of the list. My first experience with the band was Phantasmagoria. Specifically, “Grimly Fiendish,” which remains in the top songs that play in my head at any given moment. The second was their appearance on MTV’s syndication of “The Young Ones,” where they performed “Nasty” whilst the roommates frantically ran away from the “Driving Instructor from Johannesburg!!!” Something about Dave’s skunk strip caused me to want to emulate it. From there I went back through their catalog with Strawberries, Damned but not Forgotten and their seminal Machine Gun Etiquette.
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the release of Machine Gun Etiquette, the band has been on tour playing the album in its entirety, minus “Melody Lee.” As the lads walked onto the stage, they were greeted by a wildly enthused crowd. The openers served them well, and the energy in the venue had been well established. We were all ready to go.
Bassist, Paul Gray, was the first onto the stage and he waved to the audience as he strapped on his signature, Blue Rickenbacker. Captain Sensible, keyboardist Monty Oxymoron and drummer Pinch took their respective places. The Good Captain stepped to his mic and with the iconic opening words from the album (see above), they sped off. As Gray played the opening bassline to “Love Song,” the Great Dave Vanian, entered into view, gloriously dressed in a neo-Victorian long, waistcoat and black gloves.
Burning through “Love Song” into “Machine Gun Etiquette” into “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” and into “Anti-Pope,” The Damned stirred undeniable kinetic energy that buzzed through the amphitheater. Vanian put on a big red clown nose for “These Hands,” a song that he described as a “Transylvanian Drinking Song.” The jaunty cadence of the song made that statement believable. An all-time favorite of mine, “Plan 9 Channel 7” which he called “a song about a walk through a graveyard,” was next. The MC5 cover of “Looking at You,” and “Smash it Up” rounded out the Machine Gun Etiquette part of the set.
What followed was a string of fan favorites and hits, starting with “Wait for the Blackout.” Easily, their most covered and recognized song, “New Rose” was up next. Which also featured an improvisational dance from keyboardist, Monty Oxymoron. There have been some decent covers of the song, but in my opinion, there’s nothing like the original. “Neat Neat Neat” from the first album made its way into the set. My absolute all-time favorite Damned song is “Ignite.” This closed out the set and I missed most of it because I had to climb stairs, those damn stairs all around the venue. Haha. My legs killed me for 2 days after. But I digress. I caught the end of the song, which always made me extremely happy.
For the encore, we were treated to “Curtain Call,” and a cover of Elton Motello’s “Jet Boy Jet Girl.” With the Captain center stage, he led us in a boisterous sing-along. It was the perfect way to end the show and simply capped off an already incredible set from these punk rock legends.
The Damned never disappoint. In my years of experience, I have never been to a bad gig with this band. There has yet to be a show where I have spoken to someone who has been disappointed with the show. This evening was no exception. The Damned is a band that brings people together. From Punks to Goths, aged and young, old fans who bring new fans. It always feels great. It always feels like a Damned family reunion.