Gig Review

The Darkness
London, Electric Ballroom
12th November 2013

The Darkness         

The year is 2003. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are safely guiding the UK through the longest period of sustained economic growth in recorded history, Concorde has made its final commercial flight, Dirty Den has made a triumphant return to Eastenders and British troops have landed in Iraq, kickstarting the never ending ‘war on terror’, which happens to be the only known war to have been declared on a noun. The year will also be remembered for the rapid ascension of The Darkness; a spandex clad, glitterbomb of retro cock rock, hell bent on taking the UK charts – and popular culture – by storm. Their debut album Permission to Land gatecrashed the album charts, landing at number two in July 2003 before eventually hitting number one and staying there for a month. It seemed that everyone, everywhere, loved The Darkness.

The next twelve months brought BRIT awards, Kerrang! awards, sell out tours and fully fledged drug addictions. 2005’s follow up album One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back was released to mixed reviews, and struggled in the charts, marking the beginning of the decline for the Lowestoft glam rockers. The following years brought rehab, lead singer Justin Hawkin’s departure and an ill-advised solo attempt at entering the Eurovision Song Contest. By late 2011, the band had reformed, toured small venues and supported Lady Gaga. In 2012, the band released their latest album, Hot Cakes. Nobody seemed to notice.

Fast forward to November 2013 and the band, riding a wave of public demand for anything that evokes the slightest semblance of nostalgia, headlined Camden’s Electric Ballroom, supported by River 68’s and Lost Alone. The result was, for want of less clichéd term, a game of two halves.

Rivers 68 opened the evening up with an impressive blend of bohemian bluesy rock which seemed to entertain the audience as they were filing in from the high street.

Next up were 3 piece rockers Lost Alone, treated the now near-capacity crowd to a melodic and stomping set full of screeching guitar solos and searing vocals. Their brief foray into crowd participation went down about as well as full beard at a Movember party but they were certainly enthusiastic, full of attitude and swagger in their delivery while their general sound was much fuller than many other three piece bands have been able to muster. In many ways, Lost Alone are the perfect support act on such a night – bravado, nostalgia and hairspray.

As the final few filled the venue, the opening bars of Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town rang out of the PA system – and onstage came The Darkness. Wiry, weathered and ready to rock. Justin – spandex jumpsuit aside – was almost unrecognisable from the 2003 version. Although his new appearance upon rejoining the band has been widely documented in the media, there was still something that didn’t sit quite right in terms of how most fondly remember him; his trademark lank wavy locks replaced with a bobbed perm, and trimmed facial hair now sits proudly upon the lower part of previously clean shaven face, however all superficial differences were soon forgotten the moment he bellowed the opening bars of vocal.

The first half of the set was primarily for the new material from Hot Cakes, and as such, was admittedly largely forgettable. “This first set is what we like to call...the curiosity set” conceded the lanky frontman. And, in all fairness, there was a sense that the crowd were tolerating the newer material rather than appreciating it. After all, nobody goes to the cinema to enjoy the seeming endless plethora of Coke adverts and Adam Sandler trailers prior to the film starting. The main highlight of the first half of the set was the cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit, which, as I said the first time I heard it and still say to this day, is equal parts impressive and unabashed musical buggery. Eventually, the first half closed with an energetic rendition of One Way Ticket – complete with cowbell – and it was then time for the interlude.

The second half was what we the audience, and presumably the band, had been waiting for. What played out over the next 45 minutes or so was Permission to Land in tracklist order, and all in attendance weren’t disappointed.

Black Shuck opened the nostalgia set, and sounded as good live in 2013 as it had on record ten years earlier. Ed Graham (looking at least 30 years older than I’m sure he is) worked overtime on the drums, and the falsetto vocals were every bit as powerful as the pre-cocaine and heroin days. Get Your Hands off My Woman drew one of the biggest responses from the crowd, partly due to Justin’s insistence, but mainly because of the customary open-legged handstand he performed. It’s still quite a sight to behold.

Of course, everyone’s favourite ode to sexually transmitted diseases Your Really Growing on Me brought the house down, and I Believe in a Thing Called Love, as you’d expect from any great pop song, provided the biggest sing along of the evening. The band entertained throughout the gig, bouncing around and high kicking with the energy of men ten years their junior, although it was no surprise when after five songs Justin calmed things down a little to engage with a particularly vocal member of the crowd:

“You’ve been yelling at me all night. What’s your name, mate?” Asked Justin
“BRIAN!” Shouted the loud bastard
“Do you know what song’s coming next, Brian?”
“TRACK 6!” he yelled back. Genius.

By the time Love on The Rocks rolled around, women who are now probably too old and married to be on the shoulders of their husbands/boyfriends were being held up on the shoulders of men too old to be lifting things and everyone was having a pretty decent evening, the vocals were pitch perfect, the riffs were loud, distorted and crunchy, and the solos were soaring. It was enough to make you remember why they were so popular in the first place – a band just having fun and in no way taking themselves seriously.

The encore came, and to absolutely nobody’s surprise it was Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End). It may have been six weeks too early, but nobody was in a bah humbug kind of mood – it seemed fitting that the evening’s closing chapter was left to possibly the finest song they’ve written, the song that will be on Christmas compilations long after The Darkness finally hang up their spandex for good.

The Darkness 4/5

Review By Jack Turner

 The Darkness

Justin Hawkins
Dan Hawkins
Frankie Poullain
Ed Graham

 Band Related Links
The Darkness Facebook
 Review Score Code
- Top Cheese
- Brilliant
- Pretty damn good
- Ok I guess
- What Was That?