At their commercial peak The Darkness sold out Newcastle Arena, Justin Hawkins soared above the adoring throng on a pair of giant naked breasts and every overblown rock cliché in the book made for a spectacular, if rather soulless, event.
Like so many of their enormodome heroes, the lads from Lowestoft had succumbed to the temptation of style over substance, showmanship over musicianship and the desire to be incredible rather than credible.
But back then a huge buzz and the big bucks followed The Darkness’s every move. Their massive production was a response to the circumstances of the day and a reaction to realising dreams and running on adrenaline.
Somewhere along the line the music became secondary. But there’s a reason The Darkness became such a testosterone-fuelled phenomenon the first time around: this band wrote brilliant songs.
The Hot Cakes tour gets back to basics. The classic tunes are the focus. The trademark vocals are stunning. The familiar solos are dazzling. And the tried and trusted rhythm section is tighter than Justin’s tattooed torso.
Justin’s craic is worth the admission money alone – even the watching Biff Byford raised a smile as The Darkness’s frontman cajoled the crowd and cut to the chase.
As Saxon’s veteran leader would confirm, rock and metal used to be awash with naturally confident performers who valued their special bond with the paying public and added a personal touch to the often impersonal setting of the commercial rock show. These days such frontmen are few and far between – Justin bucking the trend rather than complementing any fashion for interaction.
His decision to invite one fan to deliver a falsetto blast of ‘mother fucker’ was inspired. Justin admitted moments like that are ‘why he is in music’ and freed from the constraints of a distant arena stage he is allowed to flourish: getting close to the crowd has never fazed the charismatic singer and he still loves to be carried aloft through the adoring masses, soloing and pressing the flesh as he goes.
One of The Darkness’s earliest trips to the City Hall was as support act to Def Leppard. Back then the quartet was a bunch of cocky young kids without the stagecraft or the nous to permeate a tough audience who thought they’d seen it all as the NWOBHM ceded to hair metal and, ultimately, grunge.
Almost 10 years to the day and Leppard’s crowd would surely warm to The Darkness MkII. In 2013 they’re a tight unit, offer terrific value and tackle every song with insatiable gusto. Justin and Dan Hawkins come across as brothers in arms rather than siblings at war and this is a band that benefits from genuine [Frankie] Poulain power.
Ed Graham’s ‘silent’ drum solo proved to be a smart take on one of rock’s less entertaining clichés and this special night offered further evidence that I Believe In A Thing Called Love is still one of the great anthems of the noughties.
It’s time to believe in the power of live music, the allure classic songwriting and the pleasure of simple entertainment. It’s time to believe in a thing called The Darkness.
Images courtesy of John Burrows @ishootgigs