To witness The Damned Things live is to remember why we all fell in love with rock and roll in the first place.

Photo credit: Laura Haggard.

The term rockstar is thrown around a lot right now. Much like the term queen, the term rockstar has become synonymous with anyone people view as being exceptional at their craft. That thinking applies to those in music as much as those that exist outside of it, but there was a time not long ago when the term carried far more weight. Rockstars were, at least to those who followed them, Gods among humans. Rockstar were individuals who used their gifts to create art that inspired and supported the working class. They were proof that anyone could find a way to rise above their surrounding, and they carried themselves in a manner that suggested the weight of the world no longer sat on their (traditionally broad) shoulders.

On Tuesday, May 14, The Damned Things celebrated the recent release of their Sophomore record, High Crimes, at Elevation in Grand Rapids, MI. Nearly ten years had passed since the band’s last album, which was also the last time the group toured, but the roughly two-hundred people gathered in the venue were happy to welcome the band back with open arms. The crowd included people from all walks of life, both young and old, who shared an unspoken recognition that what would unfold that evening was rare. On stage that night we’re modern Gods in the world of rock music. They were artists who could quickly fill rooms ten times the size of the space they had chosen to inhabit that evening, and yet they carried themselves with a grace that conveyed a sense of appreciation for every ticket bought.

Recounting the careers of The Damned Things’ members is unnecessary. If the group as a whole were somehow less than any members’ other pursuits, there would be a reason to investigate what went awry, but The Damned Things is far from a disappointing side project. The group celebrates the kind of lawless and undefined sound of rock and roll made purely for the sake of artistic expression. Their music is the sonic equivalent to someone saying they are “here for a good time, not a long time,” as well as all the unpredictable chaos that living by such beliefs is sure to create. They would be considered a band of renegades if their industry pedigrees weren’t so widely recognized, and yet, in that space, one could feel each member retaining a sense of wild-eyed curiosity about just how unforgettable one show could be.

That kind of question has no answer. Everyone takes from a live experience what they choose, and you can’t control anyone’s reaction to the lights and sounds coming off the stage. What was clear that night, as people left the warm embrace of the venue and almost immediately began complaining about the cold the temperatures that were creeping into mid-May, were the smiles plastered on the face of everyone who had witnessed The Damned Things’ performance. It seemed that each person in that space, regardless of their reason for coming out that night, had gotten exactly what they were looking for from the seventy-minutes(ish) that The Damned Things were on stage.

There will be more shows on The Damned Things current promotional run, and there may even be more albums down the line. The group averages one release per decade, so even if the world goes to shit in the coming years, there will be hope for an excellent rock record as those of us who survive head into 2030.