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click to enlarge The Damned

Photo by Jen Cray

The Damned

The Damned reclaim history, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers emerge nationally, Swamp Sistas give bright preview of annual La La showcase 


History is a fluid thing, thankfully. Perspective can right past slights. The Damned are a capital example. In the annals of rock, these irreverent punk chameleons have long been eclipsed by fellow U.K. contemporaries the Sex Pistols and the Clash even though they're just as seminal and O.G. But, in recent years, they've been enjoying some restitution of prestige. Rightfully so, considering their place in time, their originality and the sheer ground they've covered. It's a path that's left defining marks on punk, goth and even the alternative rock canon at large.

Now the Damned are on an official campaign to make us all feel old – I mean, a 40th anniversary tour. But on April 30, Captain Sensible broke a hip – I mean, a rib – leading to some show postponements. Luckily, the Orlando date stood.

Onstage, the guitarist was rendered somewhat immobile in a sitting position all night. But he handled the convalescence with humor and flair, performing from a toilet whose tank served as his beer cooler. More than just a funny detail, though, it's emblematic of a certain spirit. And that spirit – of pluck, of indomitability – would define the band's entire being.

Even after 40 years, they looked good, sounded great and came poised with weird charisma intact and surprisingly little rust. Dave Vanian's croon was still rich, the Captain's guitar-playing tight as ever and their sense of camp and theater still tall. Oh, and they played a two-hour set with two encores. Punk bands in their fifth decade aren't supposed to do this. But the Damned did. Then again, they also just signed a new record deal for their first album in almost a decade. What this performance exemplified about them is that, in fitness and in legacy, they've managed to not just stand time's test but defy history long enough for it to catch up with them. Bravo, boys.


Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are a young Chapel Hill band that's really just emerging. They're a new Bloodshot Records signing whose debut LP (Sidelong) was released nationally barely two weeks ago, so this Orlando debut was one of those early-peek shows. But go ahead and mark them down now.

Young though they are, the Disarmers aren't fucking around. The quintet came legit with a serious country-rock setup (yes, pedal steel and upright bass) and a for-real frontwoman. There are broader Americana and roots currents in their sound. But the chief reason to take note is that at their core beats a heart that's real country. It's a vigorous, unchained twang that swings, honks and tonks. And Shook is a pistol who looks like a punk refugee and sounds like Loretta's hard-living, dive bar-chiseled daughter.

With bite, skill and authenticity, it's as solid a foundation as they come. When your fundamentals have this much spark and diesel, fire can only be imminent. There wasn't much reputation to precede them, but they now leave town sure having laid down some.


The Swamp Sistas Songwriters Circle is the music sorority organized by local artist-mover Beth McKee. And their latest gathering was a warm-up for their big annual La La, the eight-hour showcase happening on May 20 (Fringe Festival lawn).

As exemplified by this night's roster, the cross-genre alliance continues to expand impressively in range, now encompassing not just traditional roots musicians like McKee but also torch-folk standout Zoya Zafar, loop artist Renee Is a Zombie, Mexican folk artist Ka Malinalli and hip-hop star E-Turn. At the event, the spotlight was essentially a carousel, allowing each artist to shine on her own. Some were supported live by peers, doing instrumentally what they do for each other in spirit.

After seeing the Swamp Sistas' fellowship and talent up close, their upcoming Fringe showcase – which will feature longer sets by even more artists – should be very worthwhile. Beth McKee has long been known for bringing artists together and fostering community. But this society of ladies may be her most essential building endeavor yet.

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