Live: The Darkness Return, Bringing Glam And Sweat With Them
Better than: Your ironic love of hair metal.
There's a sea of white people two-fisting 24 oz. Bud Lights the size of Pringles cans and dudes in collared shirts amusing each other with their cartoonish falsettos. Sure, glam rock may not be as popular as the tightened-up variety these days, but this sold-out crowd of suburban squares and aged mall girls couldn't care less. U.K. phenoms the Darkness, best known for their massive 2003 hit "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," have returned from their 2006 split, when singer-guitarist Justin Hawkins left the band after completing rehab. In March of last year, the original quartet announced a reunion that will hopefully help tickle modern rock's brittle, arthritic funny bone, because, cripes, you know shit is dismal when Coldplay, the Decemberists, and Mumford and Sons are Grammys nominees for Best Rock Performance. The Darkness must be aware of what we fun-starved whores are dealing with: The chug of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" signaled their impending arrival on Saturday night.
Lead man Hawkins, his guitarist brother Dan, bassist Frankie Poullain, and drummer Ed Graham hit the stage and promptly blazed through "Black Shuck." Hawkins wore a sleeveless Captain America/Evel Knievel mashup, special attire, presumably, for the U.S. dates of this tour. And thank heavens for his dedication, because if you happened to catch a glimpse of David Lee Roth's outfit at Van Halen's Cafe Wha? gig, you'd have noticed that Diamond Davethe man that pranced out of the womb in a zebra unitardwas wearing camel-colored Carhart overalls. For the love of Lycra, Dave, do you work for Con Ed or one of the world's biggest rock bands? If Gene Simmons can still squeeze his doughy moneymaker into KISS gear, you, sir, can skip the fire sales at Sears and get your ass into something that doesn't have a hammer loop.
While "Moves Like Jagger" is still all the rage, Hawkins is more of a moves-like-Fonda kind of guy, performing some of Jane's workout routines onstage. His flying scissor kick from the drum riser signaled the end of the first song with a whomp-there-it-is effect. At one point, he planted a perfect handstand, his red-and-white-striped legs looking like barber polls.
Of course, you can't talk about the Darkness without talking about Hawkins' famous falsetto, which ranged from King Diamond to Miss Piggy (when she's really, really pissed) as the singer demonstrated his joyously campy vocal athleticism. His pipes stayed polished all night, and yet not once did he pull a diva move and club us over the head with overwrought melisma. He's also a big proponent of audience participation; Hawkins coached the crowd through trilling the word motherfucker ("maaah-thaaa faaahk-aah!") for the chorus of "Get Your Hands Off My Woman," and conducted multiple call-and-response routines of screeching, beatboxing, and sputtered gibberish. Hilarious.
The Darkness were similarly masterful in executing their setthe soaring twin guitar leads of the Hawkins brothers were especially dazzling. The night was devoted to 2003's Permission to Land, with only two songs coming from 2005's One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back (my preferred Darkness albumwhy am I in the minority?) and a handful of new jams, including the recently released "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us." Predictably, the floor trembled the hardest during the band's two biggest hits, the aforementioned "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" and "Friday Night," a delightfully fruity love note from one hapless nerd to another.
See, for all the music's pomp and peacocking and Hawkins' voice that makes it sound like he bleeds glitter and semen, the Darkness truly aren't the exorbitant, flashy performers they could be, which is kinda sweet. There's an endearing dorkiness to these guys that betrays the up-your-ass awesomeness they throw down. When he was scolding a chatty fan to shut up, Hawkins immediately apologized and nervously laughed, "Just kidding!"
There's also a definite aloofness when it comes to the frontman's sex appeal. Onstage, it's really not prominent, but don't tell that to the horny ladies who screamed for Hawkins to "take it off." He obliged, peeling off his vest and unleashing his flame-tattooed pubic bone. Scrawny, glossy with sweat, and for all intents and purposes looking like a rock god, the guy simply did not feel like one. And that's more than okay. There are plenty of preening assholes in the annals of music history who have played that part and there will no doubt be loads more.
While his brother recklessly headbanged, Hawkins bopped around with his guitar, a sort of half caveman, half Austin Powers, making minimal theatrical gestures with lanky limbs, and summoning the crowd to put their hands in the air and wave them from side to side. It was a good-natured PG-rated scene like this all night. Aside from Hawkins' two costume changes and a brief behind-the-neck guitar solo, the most rock n roll moment of the evening came during closing song "Love on the Rocks With No Ice," when Hawkins waded through the crowd on the shoulders of a sturdy guy, alternately soloing on guitar and smiling at his admirers. But even that was wholesome.
Critical bias: I'm from Jersey.
Overheard: "Take it off!!"a dude, to Justin Hawkins
Notebook dump: Sucks for whoever stood behind the kid wearing the giant yellow foam cowboy hat.
Set list: Black Shuck Growing On Me Best of Me One Way Ticket Nothing'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 Everybody Have a Good Time Physical Sex Is It Just Me Street Spirit She's Just a Girl, Eddie Givin' Up Stuck in a Rut I Believe in a Thing Called Love -- Bareback Love on the Rocks With No Ice
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