- Published on Friday, 01 June 2012 03:29
words by Michael Taylor
Stubbs’s was packed last Friday night. The Darkness, a band well steeped in '70s and '80s glam rock, are on their first tour in many years after re-forming just a few months back. Given that this is a band who has only 2 albums to their credit, and only one that was a major hit, it was striking to see what a devoted fan base they still have.
Girl In A Coma, a local Texas band opened the show, and while diametrically opposed musically from the Darkness, they got things off to a raucous start with their high-energy blend of punk and rockabilly. I'd heard of the band but weren't overly familiar with their material. They won the crowd over and their set was short but sweet.
After they exited, the wait began for the Darkness to take the stage. I was quite taken years ago with their début album, Permission To Land, a very tongue in cheek, Spinal Tap-ish take on rock, full of great hooks and witty lyrics. Lead singer Justin Hawkins was a former songwriter for commercial jingles, and he has a great sense of song craft. That tied in to the powerful twin guitar sound he shares with his brother Dan, made for a winning combo. Two years later they released One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back. This was much less promoted due to inner band conflicts. And while it had several great songs, it wasn't nearly as satisfying as Permission. So I was left wondering how would they return to the stage? Jaded and needing a cash grab, or hungry with a wish to take the world by storm once again?
It was clear from the kickoff track 'Black Shuck' that they were here for the latter. It was a high-energy start, and Hawkins’s inimitable crazy high falsetto was spot on.
Most of their set consisted of Permission, which was played in its entirety. 'Growing On Me', a personal favorite, was next, and it's catchy ascending riff was thrilling to hear live. They also debuted several new songs off their forthcoming album Hot Cakes, and while I wasn't bowled over by their first single 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' (which you can download off their website), the other new songs they played sounded great, (‘Concrete’, and 'Every Inch Of You' were the standouts) fused with their familiar mixture of influences, from Queen to Thin Lizzy and AC/DC.
Speaking of Queen, while watching them perform, I thought to myself this is about as close as I would ever get to seeing a concert in their grand theatrical style. Hawkins has that same gift for showmanship as the legendary Freddie Mercury. Doing high kicks and hand stands, playing the guitar behind his head, and spitting out witticisms in-between songs, this guy is a ham, with the audience in the palm of his hands. Equally humorous and memorable was bassist Frankie Poullain. He had all the requisite arena rock moves, at one point playing a cowbell during 'One Way Ticket'. 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman' followed and was slamming.
Hawkins did a nice solo acoustic performance of their power ballad 'Holding My Own'. Again, I have to marvel at this guy's vocal range, it was amazing.
What was totally unexpected, but completely off the charts in awesomeness, was their cover of Radiohead's ' Street Spirit (Fade Out)', which was delivered with a galloping riff in the style of Iron Maiden. It was so out of context with their material I had to do a double take to wrap my head around the arrangement. It blew the roof off the place.
They also played my personal favorite 'Givin' Up', with some of their tastiest guitar solos. When the Hawkins brothers play their guitars in unison, the stereophonic effect makes for great ear candy, and the sound mix is one of the best I've heard in recent memory. Every note was crisp, no muddiness here.
But there was one song everyone was waiting for, and upon hearing the opening riff of 'I Believe In a Name Called Love' the crowd went nuts. And then they left the stage. But the crowd wasn't going anywhere.
So what does a band that plays all their biggest hits up front do for an encore? Well they started off with 'Hazel Eyes' a little heard oddity off their second album. With its bagpipe style riff, this is the distant cousin to Big Country's 'In A Big Country'. The song is very infectious and had the crowd on their feet.
After that the band did a cheeky move, doing the old call and response bit, with Hawkins singing impossibly high notes that the audience couldn't possibly sing back, but we tried. This went on for a good 20 minutes, where he correctly singled out his drummer, Ed Graham, who kept the beat with no sign of fatigue.
And then the singer traversed his '70s and '80s influences and pulled a trick straight from '90s playbook. He requested the attention of the crowd to follow him as he climbed out on the balcony and did a stage dive. We're in short supply of front men like this in music these days. It was refreshing to see.
And that was it. The band took their bows and the audience exited with grins from ear to ear. What a show.
The Darkness Set List:
Growing On Me
The Best of Me
One Way Ticket
Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
Out Of This World
Holding My Own
Love Is Only A Feeling
Every Inch Of You
Is It Just Me
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
With A Woman
Stuck In A Rut
I Believe In A Thing Called Love
Love On The Rocks With No Ice
Michael Taylor is a local Austinite who loves discussing and reviewing music, specifically that of Alternative Rock and Metal. You can check out his blog at Smellslikeinfinitesadness.com