- 01 Mar 22
Low, And Behold: The Darkness In Dublin. Words: Pat Carty. Picture: Glen Bollard.
“I saw you, scribbling away!” said one. “Looking forward to the review,” tweeted another. I hadn't planned on writing anything at all. I went to the 3Olympia Theatre last Sunday with no intention of reporting back, for several reasons. “You are in The Darkness’ pocket,” a good friend accused last week. This is not true. I don’t work for the band in any shape or form. Well, I wrote a press release, but that hardly counts. I do "work" on the internet with lead singer Justin Hawkins but neither he nor I would allow this arrangement to impinge on any critical writing because that would be a load of shite, and we try to avoid that kind of thing. Another, possibly more pertinent, reason was that the drinking started relatively early so I was fairly well-refreshed by the time they took the stage. Yes, to the person who said so, I was scribbling some notes down. Why? I don’t know. Instinct got the better of me. Normally such notes remind me of what took place. These ones turned out to be the scrawls of a manic when viewed in the light of the following day. Actually, it was the day after that again. Yesterday was a total write-off. See point two above.
Still, as a few people asked, I’ll say something. The Darkness are always incredibly good value live. Even if their recorded work means nothing to you, even if all you know of them is the big hit, they still provide one of the finest nights out in rock n’ roll. As a band they kick arse in a way that their forbearers – AC/DC, Queen, The Zep, etc – would be proud of and in Hawkins they have a frontman who would probably saw off his own legs if that’s what it took to put on a good show. The ridiculous and once prevalent accusation that they’re something of a joke band couldn’t be further from the truth; they are deadly serious about delivering a good time.
Dublin was the middle night of a three-date Irish tour – and how I longed to repeat the adventures I had the last time they toured here, but bubbling ahead of a vitally important American jaunt put paid to that – after Cork’s Cyprus Avenue and before Belfast’s Limelight. This visit was supposed to be the end of a full European set of dates but COVID put the kibosh on that too. If there was any rust on the machine though, it wasn’t evident on Sunday. I’m fairly sure most of what I’m about to say happened, but if it didn’t, please accept all necessary apologies. This will be even more “impressionistic” than I usually am, but if you don’t like it, feel free to click away, we've already counted your visit for our advertisers.
The stage set is minimal – amps, drums, the logo hanging in the back – but what else do you really need? There’s still something impossibly romantic about two guitars, bass and drums. It is the magical formula and The Darkness embody this as they totally haul ass into the opening ‘Welcome Tae Glasgae’. Yes, they opened in Dublin – and Cork and Belfast – with a paean to the dear green place because rock n' roll has no time for logic, or geography. Just like it did when it erupted from the speakers as track one, side one of their recent Motorheart long-player, it rocks like a steamin’ and scunnered Glaswegian making their way down Buchanan Street with a stocious smirk on their face.
Dan Hawkins wears his regulation Thin Lizzy t-shirt and leather jacket, placing one boot on his monitor because he knows that were he to be struck down by a massive coronary or brain bleed during the number, that is the pose he’d want to die throwing. If Sammy Davis Junior, on a particularly wild night out, impregnated an elephant and their offspring grew up with its father's tap-dancing talents but still landed each step with the heft of its mother's species then that might – might – give you some idea of both the rhythmic acumen and raw power that Rufus Taylor combines. I suspect when he goes shopping for drums, the drums try to hide, because no one wants to be hit that hard. How rock n' roll is Frankie Poullain, the man who when asked about tattoos during the VIP meet-n-greet replied that he didn’t have any unless you count the fact that the words of Keats are tattooed on his soul? Put it this way, he got to the end of the first song and then called out to a roadie in the wings for another bass, replacing one Thunderbird with another fuckin’ Thunderbird! And then he did the same thing again later on, because he’s awesome.
Justin Hawkins is simply the greatest frontman in hard rock. Freddie Mercury is tattooed on one of his digits. He adores Freddie. I suspect, however, that Freddie would have avoided him like a bailiff for fear his own star wattage would be dimmed by having another hero like this in the room. “That’s ridiculous, you sozzled buffoon!” you cry. “Freddie was the greatest!” You’re right, of course, and Hawkins would be the first to agree with you, but if you were in the Olympia Sunday, you know he’s in that league.
A roadie casually wanders on stage to add cowbell to the warning against the contents of Dr McJagger’s salt cellar, ‘One Way Ticket’ and there’s a slight hint of the Floyd at the end of ‘Motorheart’ before good sense is restored with a building-levelling version of ‘Open Fire’. Even had you been in a recent car crash, resulting in a neck cast and a stern doctor's warning that any movement would result in permanent damage, you'd still go at the plaster with the nearest sharp object and join in the head-banging celebration that takes over the room, as Hawkins invites all and sundry to give him a hug on a sheepskin rug. He throws the pick in the air, he does the duckwalk and then all three of them gather around the drum raiser for a few Townshend swings. Spectacular.
The relatively slow ‘Sticky Situations’ allows my mate Indie Pete – and probably a few others – to duck out to the bar for a few top-ups. I cajoled Pete into coming along. This was the same man who had a religious experience at Echo & The Bunnymen in this very room only a week or so before. The Darkness are resolutely not “his bag” but he’s had his mouth open the whole time, dazed by their Damascene light. While he’s gone, I admire Hawkins masterful slide playing, something he’s been working on recently. He’s getting very good at it.
“Thanks for tolerating the new album,” says Justin and as a reward – his words, not mine – they offer ‘Giving Up’ from their Permission To Land debut. The faithful, as one, go berserk, as well they should. Pete returns with a couple of glasses in the middle of this melee. He notices for the first time, as do I, that Hawkins was not wearing red spangly trousers beneath his beautiful western shirt but spangly chaps. “Chaps!” spits Pete. “I draw the line at chaps!” No, I explain as I take a welcome drink, chaps are where the line begins. He gazes at me, wide-eyed, as the Hawkins brothers bounce around the stage like teenagers who’ve just mainlined a crate of Red Bull.
Dolly Parton Nightmares
‘It’s Love, Jim’ is worth a nod for the onyx/tectonics rhyme alone, not to mind Hawkins and Poullain attempting a Status Quo boogie, and ‘Black Shuck’ is like someone throwing anvils at you, repeatedly. There was a costume change somewhere around this point. Hawkins emerged in a fringed pink and cream catsuit that would give Dolly Parton nightmares. Pete’s jaw is on the floor. He plays with a band himself. I suggest he shoot some video to show to the others, that they might better themselves. Someone throws what looks like a parka on stage. Hawkins puts it on, perhaps feeling he simply didn’t look ridiculous enough already, and then starts into Oasis’s ‘Supersonic’ before giving it up, complaining that he’s too sweaty and wondering how Gallagher does it.
The great ‘Softlad’ joins on acoustic guitar for the anthemic ‘Heart Explodes’ before more gear lands on the boards. Hawkins now has someone’s wooly hat and someone else’s glasses to add to his ensemble. “I wonder how Crackle and Pop are getting on without him,” scoffs Pete to a guffaw from me but he can’t hide the wonderment in his eyes. ‘Friday Night’ – Marc Bolan fronts The Faces – is as marvellous as it always is and the throng sway as one for ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’ with Hawkins out past the monitors to the very lip of the stage, caressing his plank with ardour.
‘Japanese Prisoner Of Love’ is ferocious and proves that they could do the Popeye theme with a drummer like that and it would still rock like a skyscraper in an earthquake. There is some blather about Ireland’s greatest writer before ‘Solid Gold’ – “front row”/”fellatio” – which prompts said idiot to stand up in the box and wave to the crowd. How he escaped with his head attached is beyond me but the song is one of their best. Like The Stones playing ‘Hammer To Fall’ was how I once put it and I stand over that. Things are getting very hazy at this point. ‘Barbarian’ lived up to its name before ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ nearly caused a riot. Did Hawkins’ quote Opus’ ‘Life Is Life’ during the vocal breakdown? All things are possible under God.
Two things stick in my mind from the encore. First, Hawkins probably gave up halfway through a costume change and emerged onto perhaps the most hallowed and holy rock n’ roll stage in the land in a pair of y-fronts and Jimmy Page’s old “German” army cap to deliver 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love'. He carried it off, mind, doubtlessly causing several conniptions and pregnancies. For a man fast approaching his mid-thirties, he looks incredible. I suspect this "vision" is seared on my retina for eternity and all the Dettol in creation would prove useless as a cleaning agent. Secondly, Pete mentioned Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’ as a possible antecedent to this, The Darkness’ most beloved tune. I countered that the same accusation could be levelled at Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. We sagely nodded our agreements and then went back to the business of throwing shapes because The Darkness are the greatest. How great? Frankie’s massive, shit-eating grin at the song’s end answers that one.
What happened next, I can’t rightly say. Taylor tried to join us for a few drinks but was swiftly reminded about what was at stake. Pete and I repaired to the bar next door to stave off the arrival of a Monday morning that I already knew would be filled with pain and suffering. Many, many smiling faces in that same Ale House told the story; The Darkness still rule, I had imagined nothing. If you happen to be reading this in America then I can only advise you in the strongest terms to make it your business to catch them on the tour that’s about to start. For the rest of us, we must return to the dreary grey of the everyday and pray that The Darkness will soon return to light it all up again.