Black Stone Cherry & The Darkness @Leeds First Direct Arena, February 3 2023
Following The Darkness has never been the most enviable of tasks.
Even when Justin Hawkins and co. were fighting their way back to arena status, the ultimate entertainers still put on a peerless show.
But now that Lowestoft’s finest are back where they always belonged, on vast stages set for swaggering rock and roll giants, the performance levels have peaked.
So pity the poor blokes who have to walk on next.
On a Friday night in Leeds that unfortunate fate befell Black Stone Cherry: assured arena regulars in their own right but nothing like the frenzied party animals who laid waste to West Yorkshire.
Where The Darkness play on a febrile mix of self-deprecation, kneejerk energy and those sassy hits, Chris Robertson and co. peddle a more serious line in muscle-bund Southern rock.
Jack-in-the-box Justin loves nothing more than dancing around in a sequined cat suit firing off falsetto blast after falsetto blast.
Chris Comes Good…Justin Time
Robertson, by contrast, prefers to stay in one place, sporting a black tee, black jeans and a turned back (predominantly black) baseball cap.
Of course, Black Stone Cherry’s frontman sings with soul and sings from the heart — he chooses affecting substance over Hawkins’ outrageous style every time.
And his fans love him for it.
But for half an hour of the de facto ‘headline’ set it seemed that the juxtaposition between The Darkness’s zany zeal and Black Stone Cherry’s earnest effort was just too much.
A crowd that had been bouncing uncontrollably to I Believe In A Thing Called Love was suddenly cowed by the searching Soulcreek.
And fans who’d been swaying joyously to Japanese Prisoner Of Love reacted awkwardly to Blind Man’s jarring change of pace.
‘…Blood‘ Line Turns Tide
In fact, it took an unlikely twist for Black Stone Cherry to turn the corner and finally emerge from The Darkness’ shadow.
Robertson’s strength has always been his frailty and he’s no stranger to suffering crises of confidence on stage and off.
But where, in the past, stumbling over his lines might have precipitated a dangerous downward spiral, here he was able to laugh about making a mess of In My Blood.
And it was that timely moment of candour that rebooted an audience keen to get behind Kentucky’s finest.
New tune Out Of Pocket upped the ante and a raucous take on Like I Roll felt more like a restart than the midpoint.
Was it plain sailing from thereon in?
Not quite. A brutal bassline seemed intent on sucking the life out of battling Ben Wells — the livewire guitarist’s finest work frequently drowned out by a deafening thud.
The engaging Things My Father Said was just one of the back catalogue standards that would surely have benefitted from a ‘less is more’ approach.
But this was Black Stone Cherry at their heaviest…rather than their best.
Blame It On The Boom Boom? Go on then.
Permission To Entertain? Granted.
The Darkness were fresher, more focused and faster out of the blocks.
Twenty years on from dazzling debut Permission To Land, seven of the 12 songs here were culled from that era-defining retro rock masterpiece.
But that’s not to say the Hawkins’ brothers don’t have anything ‘new’ to bring to the table.
The aforementioned Japanese Prisoner Of Love and Solid Gold, from 2017’s Pinewood Smile, fit perfectly into a carefully curated setlist.
And the title track from 2021’s Motorheart jostled for position with Heart Explodes as the standout track of the night.
Cheesy, cheery…call it what you like.
But there’s no band better than The Darkness when it comes to shining a light on rock and roll’s enduring, enchanting sense of sheer positivity.
Keeping Up With The Jones
Danko Jones comes a close second.
The Canadian’s bullish brand of intoxicating, gutsy garage rock has long deserved a bigger stage.
And after years spent negotiating the highway to dive club hell, this jocular journeyman worked the arena crowd a treat.
I’m In A Band, First Date and My Little RnR might read like sub-par Michael Monroe but they sound fucking awesome.
And when it comes to crafting anthemic hard rock with a punk-fuelled edge it’s a case of keeping up with the Jones in 2023.
Images courtesy of Adam Kennedy