Two years into their reformation and on the back of a comeback album ‘Hot Cakes’ that is perhaps their most satisfying work yet, perhaps time has lent some perspective to the Darkness phenomenon.
A decade ago they divided opinion like no band before. In one camp (pun intended?), those, myself included, thrilled that a band that combined Queen, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and Boston influences became huge so quickly (I remember my incredulity that such a band even existed when a friend first told me they were playing the clubs in North London) and suddenly brought the music we love and old fashioned rock spectacle back right back into the pop mainstream.
On the other, those turned off by Justin Hawkins’ falsetto and ridiculous costumes and antics, thinking they had heard it all before, dismissing them as a flash in the pan and wondering why they had succeeded where more deserving bands had failed.
The pop world moved on, as it does, to the next big thing, and the multi-million selling Permission to Land became a fixture in every charity shop in the land and their second album One Way Ticket to Hell and Back proved sadly prophetic with the effects of snorting too much ‘showbiz sherbet’ documented in the title track (which was the only number from the album played this night).
However the original line up now seem back on an even keel and even though second time round they have downsized to medium sized venues (the ‘Hammy O’ being respectably full for their second show here in 15 months)- and scaled back their stage show- no white tigers or boob chariots tonight- are still a wonderfully entertaining live act.
While he has reined in some of his excesses, Justin’s flamboyance is still very much the focus with all the stage lights focused on him and fellow band members Frankie Poullain, Ed Graham and brother Dan somewhat in the shadows, but providing a solid and reliable base. The latter is his perfect foil, pulling metallic poses and his chunky riffing complementing the searing guitar solos that Justin still finds time to play despite his on stage capers.
After the strains of the Boys are Back in Town and a very theatrical intro, they opened with the autobiographical Every Inch of You, yet I was surprised that the new album was plugged relatively lightly and indeed there had seemed to be more new songs at their previous show when the album was still several months away.
Instead the set list (not to mention the enduring ‘gimme a D, Gimme an Arkness’ catchphrase) was heavily based on the debut with favourites like Black Shuck, the irresistible Growing on Me, Friday Night and Giving Up.
Surprisingly two of their biggest hits, Get Your Hands Off My Woman and the ballad Love is only a Feeling with Dan playing the lead solos this time were slipped bang in the middle of the set rather than await the encores.
Disappointingly, new songs She’s Just a Girl Eddie and Nothings Gonna Stop Us seemed rather rushed and lacking the sonic clarity of the album, while Concrete was probably the pick of the Hot Cakes material.
Stuck in a Rut was perhaps one song too far from the first album but, after stopping to take in the crowd’ s adulation, when Justin cranked the opening riff to I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a song almost universally known, a crowd that already included a generous moshpit down the front were going crazy.
Having only been on stage an hour, I expected a generous encore slot, which began with old B side The Best of Me with its Lizzy esque guitars and their cover of Street Spirit, coming over more late seventies Judas Priest than Radiohead.
In traditional Darkness fashion they closed with a lengthy Love on the Rocks With No Ice, Justin going deep through the crowd perched on Dan’s shoulders and still playing guitar, then inciting the crowd in some very Mercurial call and response from the top of a speaker stack.
Now that their public profile has dipped and no one any longer has to take sides, this gig proved beyond all doubt that the Darkness are simply a fine, straight ahead, if slightly tongue in cheek rock band who have few peers when it comes to spectacle and entertainment and leave you with a big grin over your face.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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