The Darkness is doing pretty well for a band that could be a considered a one-hit wonder. After a five-year hiatus and some rehab visits, the band is back in full force with its original lineup.
They still look trapped in the '70s, too, with frontman Justin Hawkins sporting a mess of curly blond hair and a bare, tattooed chest that he's all too eager to expose. He made lots of jokes about being naked, which wasn't that surprising after seeing his blurred out bum in the "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" video. His brother Dan Hawkins shared guitar duty and headbanged more than the standard metalhead at a Metallica show. Frankie Poullain is back in the band, now dressed like a bizarre version of Jimi Hendrix or MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden.
The Darkness' live performance is nostalgic on so many levels. In spite of the hiatus, these guys seemed genuinely happy to once again share the stage with each other. The band played a lengthy set rife with extended guitar solos and soaring falsetto vocals (from both Justin Hawkins and the audience). Hawkins frequently asked fans to parrot back whatever strange sounds he was making, and the crowd enthusiastically mimicked his sustained high notes.
Fans were eager to sing along, particularly to the Permission to Land songs and even most of the One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back jams. "Friday Night" was a crowd favorite, with fans immediately singing along once the song was recognized.
Things got intimate during a solo acoustic version of "Holding My Own," a standout song of the evening.
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For the most part, it didn't seem like the crowd was just patiently waiting for "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." The band played the entirety of its debut album, Permission to Land as well as some b-sides, tracks from One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back and some tunes from the band's upcoming album. Fans embraced the new songs by singing, clapping, and giving the thumbs up with as much enthusiasm as their response to old favorites.
There have been some doubts as to the authenticity of The Darkness. Sure, Hawkins is essentially Freddie Mercury, Aldous Snow, and a carnie all wrapped up into one bizarre person who seems like the type to make sure all of the amps can go "up to 11," but that's all image. All four musicians were talented and kept the audience engaged with both musical skill and showmanship. There's something rad about seeing a guy wearing a striped jumpsuit with a codpiece soloing on a guitar as if it's as easy as breathing. Few contemporary bands can pull this off like The Darkness does.
It may seem cheesy to some, but after all this is the band that defeated a giant space squid with the mere power of rock 'n roll. Everything was excessive, but at the same time a lot of fun. It was really impressive to hear Hawkins actually hit all of those high notes in person.
"I Believe In a Thing Called Love" found its way into the set just before the encore. I was expecting a bunch of people to leave after it, but the majority of the crowd stuck around for "Bareback," the b-side to "Growing On Me," and "Love On The Rocks With No Ice." This song clocks in at just under six minutes on the record, yet the band stretched it out to at least two or three times that length live. It featured extended guitar solos, jokes about testicle hair, Hawkins wading into the crowd, and even more guitar solos. Most of "Rocks" was some sort of guitar solo with a drum solo thrown in for good measure. It was definitely one of the most over the top finales to a concert I have seen yet.
The Darkness couldn't have picked a better band to take on the road than Foxy Shazam. Lead singer Eric Sean Nally rivaled Hawkins' stage presence by sporting a mustache and incorporating lots of gymnastic maneuvers. Nally literally stage dived between the keyboardist and trumpeter multiple times, tuck and rolled, jumped, did hand stands, and whatever he else felt like doing at any given time. The crowd was pretty familiar with Foxy's glam rock material, screaming along to songs like "I Like It."
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The Darkness setlist: Black Shuck Growing On Me Best Of Me One Way Ticket Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Get Your Hands Off My Woman Out of This World Holding My Own Love is Only a Feeling Concrete Friday Night Hazel Eyes Physical Sex Is It Just Me Street Spirit (Radiohead cover) She's Just a Girl Eddie Givin' Up Stuck in a Rut I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Encore: Bareback Love On The Rocks With No Ice
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: The Darkness at Celebrity Theatre. Personal Bias: I haven't listened to The Darkness much beyond "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." The Crowd: The casually dressed played air guitar next to metalheads. Overheard in the Crowd: "This is one of the catchiest songs ever written about heroin" during "Stuck in a Rut." Random Notebook Dump: Lenni was right, Justin Hawkins could totally sing for Queen.