Words by Brian O’Neill | Photos by Tashina Byrd
Old or young, black or white, male or female, everyone can embrace the primal power that is punk rock. Punk rock is for everyone. And tonight, it was by everyone with three bands that spanned generations and transcended gender and race.
The Darts are like the Hex Girls from Scooby Doo come to life. Pale white skin contrasts nearly all black clothing. Put their scrawled bright red logo with a fierce kitty cat on matching leather jackets, and it’s the making of the cutest gang ever – they’ll make off with your lunch money and your hearts.
Bleating retro garage rock synths and bass riffs lead an aggressive attack that is equal parts breezy and ballsy. Catchy songs with attitude are the hallmark of great punk rock bands including the headliners, and despite The Darts being only a year old and on their first East Coast tour, they displayed both qualities flawlessly and were a lot of fun. Bonus points for covering ‘90s surf punks The Trashwomen’s ode to vibrators “Batteries” to close the set.
Radkey is five years older than Captain Sensible of the headliners if you add up the ages of all three brothers. Yet in their own way, the Missouri siblings have been playing on tours like this as well as their own shows forever. Since the five or six years that have elapsed since the trio’s appearances at South by Southwest, Afropunk, and England’s Download Festival put them on the map is about a quarter of their life too date, it probably feels that way to them as well.
The band gets tagged as a latter-day Misfits. There are worse bands to emulate to be sure, and it’s bound to happen when you consider Dee Radkey’s distinctive and rich baritone and the mostly anthemic punk rock that makes up their set. But it’s lazy too: may as well compare them to the Ramones because they all have the last name.
For example, Radkey doesn’t waste their time singing about horror punk tropes. Like most kids their age, they’re writing songs about their life which in their case means about not having to go to school (brand new single “Rock and Roll Homeschool,” though maybe there is a Ramones influence there after all!) and Dragon Ball Z (“Evil Doer”).
The set was a bit on the short side considering they were direct support, but they made up for the lack of quantity with more than enough punk rock enthusiasm.
Even though the sexagenarian Sensible and vocalist Dave Vanian are the only members who date back to the 1976 formation of The Damned, the current incarnation has been together since 1999 save for the recent addition of Paul Gray, and even he played bass with the group as far back as 1980. This cohesiveness allowed for the group to hit upon all eras of the band and also seemed to encourage spontaneity.
The band’s early ‘80s gothic period was especially well-represented. This may have because Gray is back in the fold; him joining the band coincided with that change in direction. His bass line leading “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Monty Oxymoron’s prominent keyboard rhythms on “The History of the World (Part 1)” as well as Sensible’s ripping guitar solo on “Wait for the Blackout” and lead vocals on “Silly Kids Games” highlighted the half-dozen songs from The Black Album.
Interestingly, that disc was better represented than any from the formative punk years or even the new album Evil Spirits. The psychedelic-infused “Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow” from the album proved The Damned could still add to their legacy.
There’s something that is just perfect about seeing Vanian’s pale, Vampiric face paint bobbing across the stage while Captain Sensible, wearing a T Rex shirt and his ubiquitous red beret, mostly confines himself to stage right hamming it up during and between songs. At one point he complained about Green Day making bank “while I’m penniless” with a shrug and a grin; at another, he asked about Philadelphia’s glam metal expats Poison.
The set was back-loaded with the band’s ‘70s material that proved how in an era of classic punk rock singles The Damned had more than their share. “1 of the 2,” was sent out to original guitarist Brian James (“He wrote a few good riffs in his time,” said the Captain. “This was one of them”) and in the space of closing the set and two encores, “New Rose” and “Neat Neat Neat” seemed to turn back the clock 40 years.
Drummer Pinch joked about the skunky weed smoke wafting through the TLA which prompted an impromptu snippet of hippie jam “Don’t Bogart That Joint” and Captain Sensible reprised his 1982 solo proto-rap hit “Wot” before the band finally lurched into “Smash it Up,” culminating two hours and four decades of history that was far less nostalgic than it was triumphant.