The Damned/The Dwarves - live in San Francisco (Cover Artwork)

The Damned / The Dwarves

live in San Francisco (2002)

live show

As far as most cities go, San Francisco is pretty over the top when it comes to Halloween. It's estimated that at least half the city heads over to the Castro district to watch people dress up to ridiculous extremes. The busses are packed with people dressing and acting in character. It's pretty nuts, thought it can get very, very crowded. After all the fun I had at the AFI halloween show last year, I figured it would be more fun to catch a show instead instead of going to the Castro with my friends. But alas, the Damned show was sold out! This was a little surprising considering they had to compete not only with the Castro, but also with the Cramps show a couple blocks over (two bands that have a somewhat similar audience). Refusing to let "the man" (and by "the man", I mean the Great American Music Hall) get in my way, I headed over to the show with an assortment of felt-tip markers as my arsenal. You see, the Great American Music Hall has this great policy of stamping people for re-entry. If the show is sold out, simply find someone having a smoke outside, take a look at their stamp, and then draw it on yourself (or preferably get someone else to do it) and smear it a bit. Then make sure you enter with a bunch of other people, that way the bouncers won't look to closely at your extremely pathetic looking stamp. As usual, the plan worked and I was in like Flynn!

Unfortunately, my scheming took too long and I missed the first band, Throwrag. In the meantime, I decided to do a bit of people watching. At least half the crowd was in costume, some of which were really good. Plus it was not the usual hardcore show crowd, which meant that it was all new faces to me. In fact, the only people I knew were my old public speaking professor (who I've previously seen at Tiger Army and Morrissey shows) and his wife. Nice to see some professors at the shows instead of just kids (this was a pretty old crowd, actually), kinda like when my philosophy professor saw my Husker Du shirt and commented about how he used to see them and Black Flag "back in the day." You might ask, "what does any of this have to do with the show?" It's my review and I get to name drop all I want, so bite me.

Finally the Dwarves came on. Blag came on dressed as a cheerleader and the guitarist came on wearing just a wrestling mask, if you catch my drift. Their set was high energy to say the least. Not once did the band pause between songs to chat with the crowd (though Blag would yell at us during song intros), instead they just slammed out song after song, packing as much music as possible into their set. The band clearly had their following, as they all ran up front and screamed every word while pumping their fists. There was some dancing too, but most of the Damned's fans sat in the back drinking at the bar despite Blag's constant cry of "come up here you pussies!" While I've never been that into the Dwarves, I have to admit that I really had a lot of fun during their set. Their energy was downright infectious, and I think even the skeptical found themselves nodding their head to the beat. The band played really well, despite (or possibly because of) several altercations between Blag and rowdy crowd members. Definitely a good set, but it palled in comparison to what was to come.

After a long set up time, the lights dimmed and the stereotypical "eery" classical music came on. I have to say, this venue was perfect for the Damned halloween show. The venue has a very classical look to it which was very fitting, not to mention a balcony above the stage which David Vanian first appeared out of for excellent dramatic value. He came dressed in a very b-movie looking wear wolf in a tux costume. It was intentionally somewhat cheesy, but not enough to be corny. Dave's stave presence was amazing as he moved back and forth across the stage attempting to look menacing. Not to mention that he sounded INCREDIBLE. I was really impressed at how great his vocals came across in a live setting. Even better when he used his current crooning style on the older songs where he had just yelled on during the studio versions. Captain Sensible, dressed in a very cool looking hydra head mask, did some good jumps for an old guy and turned out some impressive solos. The bassist pretty much just stood there, but I liked her nun costume. And the keyboard player...well, he kinda danced around like an idiot. But he played well, so it's all good. Don't ask me about the drummer, because I couldn't really see him.

Anyways, the band really avoided that "getting by based on our glory days" reunion cliché by playing material from pretty much all of their albums, including recent stuff. And it really didn't seem like they were doing it for the money, the band seemed legitimately into it. Plus the crowd went nuts for them. I don't think I've ever heard a punk crowd cheer and clap so loudly in between songs. And the band returned the energy in spades, playing for nearly TWO HOURS. Pretty much everything you wanted them to play got played, including the two most requested songs, Smash It Up pt 2 and New Rose, as the encore. While the show was $25 (but free for me! suckers!), the Damned made damn sure (oh god, I'm hilarious) that everyone got their money's worth. Too bad the tours over, cause all you suckers that missed them are shit out of luck. From now on, I think I'm going to attend shows every halloween!