The Darkness @Newcastle O2 Academy, December 14 2019
The Darkness brought their unique over-the-top brand of rock and roll to a packed-out Newcastle crowd on a bizarre Saturday night.
Touring in support of their latest album Easter Is Cancelled, the Lowestoft quartet made the decision to devote the first half of the show to play the new release in its entirety.
For a band to show this level of faith in new material is relatively unheard of.
Albums can take years of maturing, before bands dust them off and play from start to finish – more often than not on anniversaries of their release.
Even then, most bands would wait until one of their releases has gained either notoriety, commercial success or, at the very least. a cult following.
Let’s face it though: most bands The Darkness are not.
This is a band that, despite never quite reclaiming the success of their 2003 release Permission To Land, have endured in the hearts of rock fans of all ages.
This was evident from the expectant crowd that packed into a sweaty O2 Academy.
The aforementioned performance of Easter Is Cancelled was polished and some of the tracks sounded even better live than on the album.
No surprise there, then.
The magic of The Darkness is in their astonishing live performance.
Simple lights and video screens are all that is needed when you sound this damn good.
To nit-pick, this part of the set was somewhat disjointed as empty gaps for guitar changes punctuated track changes.
But special mentions should go to the scintillating Heart Explodes and How Can I Lose Your Love. Both sounded magnificent.
The former was aided by some old school audience participation to elevate it to the level of one of the band’s best tracks and standouts of the night.
It was evident throughout the newer material, however, that portions of the audience had turned out for nothing more than the band’s sterling back catalogue of work.
A self-deprecating sense of humour pretty much sums up The Darkness and it helps to watch on with a tongue firmly planted in cheek throughout.
Frontman Justin Hawkins’ audience rapport grew steadily as the charismatic frontman warmed into his performance.
And by the time the first track from Permission To Land, Growing On Me, was belted out, the audience was squarely in the palm of his hand.
But Hawkins has always lived on the edge and he’s never been afraid to dial into potential conflict.
Moaning about those fans filming every minute of every song, he hilariously offered to find charging points for those pissing him off the most.
But when have The Darkness ever been shy of media attention…social or otherwise?
This is a band that, by rights ,should still be headlining festivals the world over, claiming number one spots in the charts and playing arenas and stadiums.
In fact the noise created on stage could barely be contained within the confines of the Academy.
Both Justin and his brother Dan are tremendously talented on the guitar, equally matched by bass player Frankie Poullain and sticks man Rufus Taylor (who knows a thing or two about playing the drums on the biggest stages).
When all is said and done it won’t the self-implosion or resulting hiatus that will prove to be the biggest downfall of The Darkness.
It was simply being born in the wrong era. If the band were around 20 years earlier, their success would have been up there with the very best.
One of the more bizarre moments of the night came from a vocal section of the crowd that took particular shine to a sleeper track on the band’s 2017 release, Pinewood Smile.
After performing Solid Gold, a pocket of fans took to chanting the song’s catchy chorus repeatedly in every break in track: much to the amusement and confusion of Hawkins, this carried on until way past the deafening encore.
Of course the loudest reception was reserved for the band’s biggest hit, I Believe In A Thing Called Love. The track is now synonymous with their name and it is just as evergreen as it was on its first release.
As the final strains of Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) pierced through the air, there was the stark realisation that very few bands in the world can keep up with Hawkins and co. let alone whip a crowd into such a frenzy over the course of two hours.
Brave. Polished. Funny. This is a band comfortable in its own skin-tight leotard but a quartet that deserves so much more.
Easter may be cancelled but we’ll be praying for a return next year.
Exclusive Images By John Burrows