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New new rose: the Damned at Valentine’s. Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen..

Punk Punk Punk
By J. Eric Smith

The Damned
Valentine’s, Oct. 8

The Damned earned them-selves a well-known and oft-quoted place in modern musical history books by issuing the United Kingdom’s first punk single (1976’s “New Rose”) and the first full-length British punk album, Damned Damned Damned, in 1977. A year later, after the poorly produced and dismally reviewed Music for Pleasure, the original band imploded—and that, for all intents and purposes, was the end of the Damned as a vital punk concern. But not, fortunately and gloriously, as a vital musical concern: Throughout the ’80s, the Damned issued a stellar sequence of albums, wherein they managed to channel punk’s energy into great, dark, theatrical pop music (without the cheese factor associated with most “new wave” music of the day), while somehow also managing to cast the visual and sonic template for much of the goth movement in the process.

The early ’90s found the band drifting a bit, toying with nostalgia for a spell by reuniting the original band, then working through prolonged legal and creative roadblocks rising from tension between founding members Dave Vanian (vocals) and Rat Scabies (drums). But by 1998, with Scabies out of the band, fellow founder Captain Sensible (guitar) and Vanian built a new version of the band, featuring Patricia Morrison (onetime bassist for the Gun Club and the Sisters of Mercy), keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron and drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching (ex-Janus Stark, English Dogs).

It was this version of the band who played Valentine’s Tuesday night, touring behind their latest record, Grave Disorder, which marked the first batch of officially sanctioned new Damned studio tunes since 1986’s Anything. And let me tell you, Bob: This version of the Damned was as kickass and classy a rock band as any I’ve seen, and I can’t help but think that if they were unknowns fighting their way up through Clubland, any number of record labels and music magazines would be falling all over themselves to dub them the next U2, the next Strokes, the next Radiohead, or the next whatever the record labels and music magazines were excited about at that particular moment. There are benefits to being in the history books of times a quarter-century past, sure, but getting fresh and open-minded listens from the industry are not, apparently, among them. Which is a damned, damned, damned shame, since new songs like “Democracy,” “She” and “Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren’t Dead?)” held their own most emphatically with the classic war horses and thoughtful album cuts that filled out Tuesday’s set.

The startlingly young-and-healthy-looking Vanian was in fine voice throughout, his sultry and powerful baritone stylings closer to the more potent bits of the Jim Morrison or Bono canons than to Johnny Rotten’s or Joe Strummer’s barks and whines. And the ever-affable bloke Captain Sensible managed to turn himself into a real guitar hero, laying down string after string of sweet, sweet solo lines, just so and just right. Morrison, too, proved herself to be a virtuoso on her instrument, her left hand moving like a spider on crack, doing everything it could to get up that freakin’ waterspout, taking numbers like the seemingly straightforward “New Rose” or “Neat Neat Neat” into places where punk- flavored songs rarely have the audacity—or opportunity—to tread.

Those two Damned Damned Damned-era nuggets were set highlights, as were the expected “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” (a demi-hit from ’79’s Machine Gun Etiquette) and the U.K. chart-topping single “Eloise.” It was also a treat, though, to hear savage renditions of unexpected cuts, such as “Disco Man” (a B-side to 1981’s Friday the 13th EP), or “Under the Floor Again” (a minor, rarely anthologized track of the Strawberries album in ’82). Based on the total package delivered by the Damned Tuesday night, I think they’ve still got it in ’em to earn another important page or two in tomorrow’s musical history books, which should make for a damned, damned, damned good read.

Quite Contrary

Mary Prankster, Bible Study
Valentine’s, Oct. 10

“I’m the queen of rock & roll, and this may be the greatest night of your life.” So said Mary Prankster, before her new band—whom she did not introduce—launched into “Swan Dive.” Despite having played together for only two or three weeks, the reconfigured trio sounded perfectly comfortable with songs from all three of Prankster’s albums. The punk stuff was punk, the more textured new material had nuance, and everyone seemed at ease on stage.

Prankster is a wonderfully in-your-face songwriter. She layers irony upon irony in her lyrics, without ever seeming smug or showy. (The sound at the show was sufficient to understand most of the words, happily.) She matches every calibrated bit of lyrical wit with an equivalent vocal inflection. Her métier is sexual politics, from the mocking parody of Irish punk in “The World Is Full of Bastards” (“and I’ve dated every one”) to the reflective lament for an affair gone platonic in “Arms Length.” She sang “Bastards” with undisguised, laughing contempt, and “Arms” with an emotional directness. There was the frustrated womanly angst and guitar rage of “Mercy Fuck,” the dry sarcasm of the rockabilly “Mac and Cheese” (as in “I want a boy to make me mac and cheese”), and lilting, Island-accented dry wit of “Spill,” which she introduced as being “as frothy and refreshing as a piña colada on a Bermuda beach.” When “Spill” received a less-than-thunderous response, she duly noted that “there’s nothing like a chick with an acoustic guitar to drive everyone to the back of the room.”

The ease with which Prankster has moved on musically from her longtime lineup bodes well for the future—and is a testament to her studied songcraft.

Local avant trio Bible Study played art-rock songs with a delicious eccentricity. Traversing a range of genres—they played a country waltz, a discordant Casio-heavy ballad, and a punk version of Greig’s theme from “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” for starters—Bible Study made it all seem pleasingly twisted. It helped that they switched instruments a number of times. Highlights included “Stanley,” a creepy, fractured first-person narrative about a pervert, and “Caveman,” a hard-rocking ska number. As a plus, their songs were often educational; for example, I now know that “hyenas disembowel their victims before they die.”

—Shawn Stone

Bluegrass Period

The Jerry Douglas Band, the Sam Bush Band
The Egg, Oct. 12

We’re living in a post-O, Brother world, where bluegrass and old-timey music are getting their moment in the pop-culture spotlight. And perhaps Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush, in packing venues like the Egg, are dipping their bread into the gravy while it’s still warm. After all, Jerry Douglas’ unparalleled dobro flashes are all over the O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack (and T-Bone Burnett enlisted him to pull together musicians for the project). Mandolin and fiddle whiz Sam Bush, meanwhile, spent several years as bandleader for Emmylou Harris. Nevertheless, those folks who came expecting to hear the mountain strains of some dark holler were in for a rude shock, for Douglas and Bush are restless innovators who came of age on the progressive end of bluegrass. Bush was leader of the genre-bending New Grass Revival (which spawned Béla Fleck), while Douglas (whose most recent gig is with Alison Krauss & Union Station) came up with genre-melders such as J.D. Crowe & the New South and the Country Gentlemen.

The Egg performance Saturday was a night of rarely seen instrumental virtuosity, with Bush’s caffeinated flashiness not quite as emotionally effective as Douglas’ more humane touch. Deep into his set, Jerry Douglas pointed out the dearth of bluegrass content, noting a quote from a recent review: “Bluegrass nil.” In deference, he gave his rhythm section a rest while he, his youthful spike-haired fiddler Gabe Wichen and guitarist Bryan Sutton delved into a brief bluegrass interlude, providing the highlight of the night. The rest of Douglas’ all-instrumental set consisted of such recent stuff as the frenetic, jazzy “Cave Bop,” which Douglas accurately described as “Charlie Parker meets Fred Flinstone,” and the whirling “Wild Rumpus,” inspired by the child’s book Where the Wild Things Are. Douglas’ aggressive, searing peals of liquid twang were magnificent, with Wichen and the outstanding Sutton proving more-than-able accomplices.

Sam Bush’s set stood in bold contrast to Douglas’. Whereas Douglas came across as a down-home, humble character spinning a few easy anecdotes between numbers, Bush, whom Douglas described quite accurately as “the Energizer Bunny,” suffered from what might have been a case of instrument envy. Dressed in a baseball jersey with a Sammy Hagar-like head of blond curls, he slung his tiny mandolin like a rock instrument. With his dizzying solo bursts, he attempted to compress as much musical information into as small a space as possible. And while that approach certainly showcased Bush’s mastery, it ultimately spoke of an empty fluency.

The set also was weighed down by too much shtick, including cutesy dance steps, fiddle-bow balancing and teasing snatches of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.” Guitarist Jon Randall Stewart even aired out a dated and wince-worthy Ross Perot imitation. Meanwhile, a self-aggrandizing stroll through Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself” seemed aimed at the smattering of hirsute, patchouli-odored collegians (who were perhaps lured by the Fleck association). The band hit the heartstrings most with dead-perfect vocal harmonies and such down-to-earth, countrified moments as Jeff Black’s “They’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” and “It Ain’t No Trouble to Me,” which guitarist Jon Randall Stewart cowrote with Guy Clark.

—Erik Hage

Electrifying Sweat

The Mooney Suzuki, Sahara Hotnights, the 1234’s
Valentine’s, Oct. 13

In the black-and-white photograph that blankets the centerfold of their latest album, Electric Sweat, the four members of New York City’s the Mooney Suzuki bear a resemblance to their rock & roll forebears MC5 as the legendary Detroit band appeared on the cover of their classic 1970 album Back in the USA. It’s the hair, more so than the vacant stares or the black leather motorcycle jackets. Minus the massive ’fro of MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner, both bands have black, shoulder-length hair in the photos—and the hair itself is remarkably stringy, snarled and sopping wet. Could be the musicians were all caught in the rain on their way to the photo shoots, or they all share an aversion to personal hygiene. More likely, the look conveyed by both bands is one of soaked sweat and spent energy: the look of a band who just played a set of pure rock & roll.

Musically, the Mooney Suzuki draw heavily from the high-energy, hook-filled rock that filled MC5’s Back in the USA. Though they’re lumped in with the current New York City garage-punk revivalists, the Mooney Suzuki rock far harder than the Strokes and have none of the art-rock aspirations of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. So, it was fitting when Mooney Suzuki frontman Sammy James interrupted the band’s Valentine’s set on Sunday night to sermonize about rock & roll’s much ballyhooed recent resurrection. “People talk about the return of rock & roll,” James pronounced. “As far as the Mooney Suzuki’s concerned, rock & roll was never missing.”

For all his faux seriousness, James’ declaration was no mere hype—the Mooney Suzuki put on one of the most rocking shows Valentine’s has seen all year. With choice songs culled from Electric Sweat (“In a Young Man’s Mind,” “I Woke Up This Mornin’ ”) and their debut album, 2000’s superb People Get Ready (“Half of My Heart,” “My Dear Persephone”), the Mooney Suzuki ripped through a short but sweaty set of high-spirited, head bopping, hand clapping rock & roll. Wearing oversized black sunglasses, James bobbed his head about—mouth agape—like a blind man caught up in the fervor of the music. “Energy can be created out of nothing,” James declared. “We’re gonna do it tonight.” Indeed.

As good as the Mooney Suzuki were, they were nearly upstaged by Sahara Hotnights, a quartet of hard-rocking chicks from Sweden who channeled both Joan Jett and the Ramones. Though their American debut album, the recently released Jennie Bomb, is an impressively infectious collection of snarling glam-punk, the band sounded even better live. Singer-guitarist Maria Andersson raised a triumphant arm in the air during the shout-out chorus to the band’s blistering take on Suzi Quatro’s 1970’s hit “Can the Can.” By the time Sahara Hotnights closed with “On Top of Your World” (their “hit single in Sweden”), Andersson’s fashionably jagged shag haircut was drenched with sweat and clinging to her forehead—now that’s rock & roll.

Dubbed “local heroes” by Sahara Hotnights, Saratoga’s the 1234’s opened the show with a well-received set of exuberant garage rock. As Phil Donnelly flailed on drums and guitarist-singer Robin Adams unleashed distinctive vocal phrasings, the four-piece covered such 1960s party classics as “Tobacco Road” and “Money (That’s What I Want).” They offered a glimpse of original material on the boisterous rave-up “How You Gonna Keep Your Mind on Dancing?” and on their suave theme song “The Ballad of the 1234’s”—both promises that this newly formed band will only be getting better.

—Kirsten Ferguson

Paging Peter Marshall

David Lindley & Wally Ingram
The Van Dyck, Oct. 12, 2002

The Dave and Wally show came back to the Van Dyck again last Saturday (they were last at the venue about a year and a half ago). Lindley sang and played a truckload of guitars and exotic stringed instruments (including saz, bazouki and oud), while Ingram percussed from behind a personally idiosyncratic and expansive trap set. The combined sound from these two musicians was full and complete, and the low end was bolstered by a resonator bass drum—essentially a second bass drum affixed to the first. Lindley’s instruments, and his approach to them, created a cavalcade of rhythmic and harmonic layers, and rather than being reliant on microphones, they’ve all been adapted with pickups. This allowed for a further bolstering of each instrument’s specific timbre. Indeed, Lindley likes to play them loud—not mindlessly earsplitting loud, but big take-over-the-room/jump-down-your-throat loud.

With his gray mutton chops and cascading hair free-for-all and trademark garish polyester print shirts, Lindley looks like Captain Ahab dressed for an appearance on Hollywood Squares, circa 1974. This odd confluence is an apt metaphor for the music that he and Ingram create. They freely adapt and modify, mixing reggae, middle eastern, Japanese, blues, cowboy yarns, and anything else that strikes their fancy. Ingram’s and Lindley’s perfectly delightful interplay is often grin-inducing, both for them and for musically attentive audience members.

Humor is also always at home in their shows, from the droll between-song patter to some of the songs themselves (“Cat Food Sandwiches,” “King of the Bed,” “Sport Utility Suck”). They offered up a new song called “When a Guy Gets Blues,” written as if John Lee Hooker were singing it. Lindley’s originals were intermingled with tunes by J.J. Cale (“Tijuana”) and the unexpectedly cowritten “Well Well Well” by Bob Dylan and Danny O’Keefe.

—David Greenberger

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