- 26 Nov 19
Caught One More Time
It’s a ballsy move, performing the whole of your new album, but then The Darkness have always sported testes of a size that would have Indiana Jones sprinting out of any cave. Normally, as rock tradition dictates, the phrase “here’s some new material” has a band’s staunchest admirers retreating to the bar, but this year’s Easter Is Cancelled might be the group’s strongest album since their beloved debut.
‘Lest anyone be worried about the ‘new direction’ the walk-on music of ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and ‘20th Century Boy’ puts us straight. The lights go down and it all goes a bit Zeppy as mandolin and acoustic guitar do battle only to be cleaved in twain by the first of Justin Hawkin’s ear-splitting emissions. He beckons for his Stratocaster like a lord calling for his morning brandy and proceeds to lay waste to the first several rows, who all succumb, happily. ‘Rock ‘N Roll Deserves To Die’? This is actually the case for the defence. The song even finds room for a HappyTrails/metal strut finish, and that was just the first number. “Thanks, we’re The Darkness”.
Hawkins’ fingers dance and skip up and down the fretboard for ‘How Can I Lose Your Love’ as the rest of the band, Rufus Taylor in particular, make the kind of noise that an approaching herd of Panzers might. Hawkins admits this is self-indulgent, white-clad – and they are, in various waistcoats and Jerkins, Hawkins with the nipples out, naturally – fare but you will know that The Darkness is awesome, which they most assuredly are. The perfect pop metal of ‘Live ‘Til I Die’ gives way to ‘Heart Explodes’, a big power ballad hybrid for which the band ‘liberate’ Taylor’s Da’s band’s ‘Radio Ga-Ga’ audience clap along. They had everyone at that point. Good thing too, because ‘Deck Chair’ is still ‘challenging’, the album’s ‘Sloop John B’, despite the tasty Knopfler guitar solo.
Hawkins is now strapless – in terms of attire, not guitar – for a fucking ferocious ‘Easter Is Cancelled’, which is then out- gunned by the pummelling the band inflict on the audience with ‘Heavy Metal Lover’. Dan Hawkins throws in a ‘rap’ near the end, but I don’t think Jay-Z should worry too much. ‘In Another Life’ allows the audience to get back up off the floor, Hawkins silences a heckler, and not for the first or last time: “What’s that, mate? Shut the fuck up, we’re here to do a job, and business is booming!” If further proof was needed, they give it with ‘Choke On It’ - guitars are played behind heads, drums are beaten like Blacksmiths hitting anvils. It is relentless and it is glorious. It is the kind of performance that should be offered as damning evidence when indie rock finally goes up on trial. This is what you want even if this is not what you want!
Hawkins plays the first verse of the manifesto that is ‘We Are The Guitar Men’ on his own and then pauses to lap up some applause. You wouldn’t see this much ham in a butcher’s window. The song, to my ears at least, goes a bit off the rails with the double-time beat behind the verses but it is saved as anything would be – a burning house, a drowning cat, a lousy party - by a Les Paul denouement.
A quick break, and a costume change, and they’re back. Dan in leathers and Lizzy shirt, the ridiculously handsome Taylor in… why, no one can remember as everyone was gazing at his face, wondering whether to sit on it or punch it, the mighty Frankie Poullain was wearing the kind of kimono and polo neck combo that used to get Jason King all the ladies, and Hawkins, as he promised back stage, is done up in a red cat suit as a sexy Santa Claus. This, you shoe-gazing dolts, who wonder why nobody wants to see your band, is how it is done.
This second set is a greatest hits romp so we get ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’, ‘Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman’ with extended audience breakdown, Frankie on cowbell for ‘One Way Ticket’, the T.Rex meets Thin Lizzy ‘Friday Night’, a go at ‘Street Spirit’ that would have Radiohead shitting themselves, and versions of ‘Japanese Prisoner Of Love’, ‘Growing On Me’ and ‘Barbarian’ that might steal your wallet. There are audience asides, Hawkins borrows a belt and let’s Poullain experiment with his bass synth while he fixes his pants, he goes out on audience member’s shoulders, twice, and he tells Cork to put their fucking thumbs in the air for a great ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’.
Hawkins bemoans people roaring “do the Christmas song.” “Once it was a butterfly in the ether,” he explains. “We caught it in a net and put it on vinyl and made it Number two!” But is far from number two! A suitably glittery Les Paul guides us through the lyric of bell ends and ring pieces. Then Hawkins demands a fight to the death between two audience members, although he settles for an arm wrestle to see if they’ll do one more song. They do, it is ‘Love On The Rocks’
It builds and builds, getting harder and harder (steady!) until at last it crashes to shore. Hawkins makes a heart symbol with his hands, then adopts a Karate Kid pose, then a metal swan. The band hand out picks and souvenirs from the stage. They have nothing else left to give as they already gave it their all.
If you want a lesson in musicianship, go see The Darkness. Hawkins may mug like a child with a camera but his playing is exemplary as is that of his team-mates and Taylor has pulled it all together. If you want a lesson in showmanship, look no further than Hawkins, a clown with a brain. If you want songs that even elevator Muzak versions - and I’ve heard them - can’t tarnish, these are the ones for you. The Darkness are, quite possibly, the last of their kind. They don’t make them like this anymore.