Guitarist James Smith steps to the microphone and says: “This one’s for Big John” as The Nightingales start their set. I mention that, because it’s the only bit of the thing that made sense. So lets go through it together, yeah? This is a hometown gig for Robert Lloyd. The band had tweeted to say he’d seen many bands here, Faust, Roxy Music and Steely Dan. Just as there’s no obvious link between them, then so there’s no obvious thing to say about the band he fronts. Along the way, there’s something of the rockabilly about “Ace Of Hearts”, the harmonica lick on “Too Posh To Push” comes out of nowhere and what you make of the Kazoo on “Best Of British Luck” is up to you. Along the way, though, somehow they make it work. All of it. Fliss Kitson hammers the drums on the demented “Watch Your Posture”,  like cowbell has gone cartoon and “Real Gone Daddy” imagines a world where Batman is soundtracked by Surf Rock. As “Dick The Do-Gooder” ends things in a maelstrom of chaos, Lloyd waves a cabbage about. Why? Well, why not, frankly? Anything goes when The Nightingales sing, that’s for sure. Wonderfully unhinged.

Captain Sensible has stuff on his mind. “Thanks for having us back Birmingham, especially after the last show” he says by way of “hello” before The Damned have played so much as a note. When they do, the contrast with that gig back in November couldn’t be greater.

They begin with “Street Of Dreams” from the album that was the first to feature Paul Gray on bass and not Brian James on guitar, that’s surely a pointed opener, because where the winter show was the original line-up, this was the current band proving how much they have to say.

There’s a new album out imminently, the next song they play “The Invisible Man” comes from it, keyboard player Monte Oxymoron seems like he’s conducting the troops and his energy and personality is welcome.

The Black Album is mined again for “Waiting For The Blackout” and “Lively Arts”, then – depending on your views on such things  – they do the bravest thing you can do, or the most foolhardy: they play nearly all of the new album. Which means half an hour slap bang in the middle of a gig that’s made up of music that no one has heard yet. There’s a single “Beware Of The Clown”, during which the extremely dapper Dave Vanian (his fedora is spectacular) dons a red nose and the Captain dedicates it to Boris Johnson, but nothing else has been released.

“Darkedelic” – the new album’s title – does on this evidence, have much to commend it though. “You’re Gonna Realise” has plenty of harmonies, “Western Promise” a darker post-punk style, “Wake The Dead” a good dash of organ, and “Motorcycle Man” sees brand new drummer, Will Taylor at centre stage. The best, though, is “Leader Of The Gang”. Roadies appear, decked in sparklies, no one is sure why, but the song is great.

Even the race to the end isn’t steeped in nostalgia, although “Born To Kill” is dedicated to James and “Love Song” has a moshpit going. They play a newer song straight after, “Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow” as if to underline that this is only on nodding terms with the past. And if “Neat Neat Neat” ends things, then it does with a jam.

The first encore sees “Eloise”, which Oxymoron makes sound like The Doors, before “Smash It Up (Parts 1 And 2), the second sort of acts like the might in a nutshell. “Girl I’ll Stop At Nothing” (before which The Captain chucks his beret into the crowd, declaring he’s bored of it – maybe more than words?) is on the new album, whereas “New Rose” invented punk.

That’s why this was so good. This had a tightrope to walk between the past and the future, it did it brilliantly. Doubtless, there’ll be those wanted “the hits” and they’ll be annoyed they were confronted by new stuff. I’ve always found that odd. I love hearing new music, I love to see boundaries being pushed. Just like punk rock did in 77. In 2023, tonight The Damned maybe did the most punk rock thing of all and played it on their own terms.


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