hotleg2@ Newcastle o2 Academy, March 6 2009

Like a high pitched caterpillar cruelly constrained by the cocoon that is the UK club circuit, Hot Leg is a hair metal (behe)moth on the brink of spreading its wings far beyond such strangulating venues. Fortunately that time is not now and those of us who can catch Justin Hawkins’ eye-catching band in its embryonic stage are privy to a very special evolution indeed.

Even in the time passed since the ‘Leg supported Extreme at Newcastle’s City Hall this hilarious fourpiece have matured and morphed into a rock beast worthy of mainstream attention. The T-shirts reminded us that the Hawk’s new act are still so small their debut album charted at a lowly 81 but expect this year’s follow-up to feature far more prominently. If the hitherto unreleased ballad Come Into My Arms is an indication of the quality material stockpiled by the prolific former Darkness man then it’s a given that Hot Leg will soon be reaching that next rung on the ladder to arena heaven. Until then sweaty hordes packed into darkened hovels can get closer than is advisable to a true superstar of the six-string scene as he struts his stuff in trademark skin tight jeans and 80s-style headbands. And it’s fantastic.

But first, what of support band The Crave? Hmm. Caught between more than two musical stools here we have a classic case of trying to please all of the people all of the time. Talent? Check. Energy? Check. Tunes? Check. Any idea of what they are or where they’re headed? Nope.

The Brighton quartet have it all – they just haven’t found it yet. So maybe this tour will be the making of them. Frontman Ryan Burnett has edgy rock star written all over him but the words don’t always make sense and this support set is too sketchy to paint a true picture. Worth seeing again but a management meeting with ‘direction’ at the top of the agenda is a must.

By contrast, like a breath of fresh air, Hot Leg are blowing through a potentially stagnant rock scene just like The Darkness did all those years ago. Both professional and playful, focused and fun-loving there are few bands out there who boast the confidence and class to play the music they do and not get laughed out of town. Make no mistake, these enderaing gentlemen are deadly serious about their work. But they are paid to entertain and they do so with unnerving panache.

Watching Hawkins astride a giant roadie’s shoulders in the midst of his adoring public I was suddenly transported back in time to an era when his former band cleaned up at clubs across the country. I was back in the Newcastle University basement within inches of this charismatic crooner’s crotch and trying desperately to avoid an ugly crush.hotleg1

Having rifled through the many and varied highlights which mark the true return to form that is Red Light Fever – think Ashamed, I’ve Met Jesus and the lovingly crafted Kissing In The Wind – Hawkins had his people enraptured. He celebrated the birthday of one young boy and the marriage of an older woman, the joy of pressing flesh with open-mouthed punters and the breathless passion only a gig like this can inspire.

There was a clamour for The Darkness standards even if there was no real need to include them in a set so staunchly entrenched in the future. Cocktails remains an instant classic (and is available as the latest single) but it actually pales in comparison to Hot Leg’s rockier moments.

Looking like a latter-day Bjorn Borg replete with retro 80s tennis gear (where did he get those Fila shorts and why?) Hawkins lorded over his encore like a warrior who had not only won the battle but the war. In 12 months’ time Hot Leg will be huge, gigs like this will be in the past and those of us who witnessed the painful implosion of The Darkness will be wracked by nerves and fearing the worst. For now Hot Leg = Warm Heart.

Simon Rushworth