The meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of The Darkness is well documented. Their debut album ‘Permission To Land’ catapulted them into the mainstream, it’s dizzying combination of glam, classic rock and wry English observation garnering them quadruple platinum sales and a clutch of Brit Awards. Never ones to shy away from the trappings of success, the band toured Permission to Land for nearly two years, a grueling schedule which ultimately led to the departure of bassist Frankie Poullain. In 2005 they released the follow up album ‘One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back’, which, while still selling over a million copies, failed to match the success of the debut, entering the UK Chart at number 11. Justin Hawkins’ rehabilitation from a struggle with cocaine and alcohol abuse marked the end of his involvement, and the remaining members called it a day in 2006.
The intervening years brought various projects; Hawkins’ failed attempt to represent the UK at Eurovision, guitarist Dan Hawkins and drummer Ed Graham forming The Stone Gods, but none of these proved either fulfilling or successful. In 2011, The Darkness announced their plans to reform, playing Download Festival as well as shows across Japan, the UK and Ireland.
Now they’re back touring their new album ‘Hot Cakes’, which is, on balance, a return to form. More akin to Permission To Land, Hot Cakes is full of tracks that beg to be played live by one of the tightest bands and finest showmen this country has produced in a long while.
They’ve brought Ginger Wildheart with them this tour, which is a rather splendid bonus. He still bangs out better riffs than most people could dream of and backed by a band giving their all and Victoria Liedke flailing away beside him like a marionette on a treadmill, it’s a great start to the night.
As the strains of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ echo from the PA, Justin Hawkins strides on stage. Sporting a moustache and beard combo to rival Guy Fawkes and a catsuit cut daringly close to the gentleman’s area, he remains every inch the rock frontman, channeling his idol Freddie Mercury in both dress and demeanour. A curtain drops behind him, revealing the band, brother Dan whirling and leaping, clad in silk, bassist Frankie, all pose and posture, massive hair sprouting from massive bandana and drummer Ed, workmanlike and unpretentious and a simple stage set, just amps and drum riser with the band logo behind. No more the fibreglass breast chariot of 2006. It would appear that they may have realised that less can be more.
Launching into the opening ‘Every Inch Of You’, he charges about the stage, working the crowd into a chanting, hand-clapping, fist-pumping mass. They follow it with two of the hits, ‘Black Shuck’ and ‘Growing On Me’ before ripping through ‘She’s Just A Girl, Eddie’ from the new album. The breakneck pace doesn’t abate until they turn on the power-balladry with ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’, the audience shredding their vocal chords trying to match Hawkins’ falsetto. The singer shows off his party piece later in the set when, in a mass clap-along section he performs a headstand on the drum riser and claps his feet in time.
As the night progresses they rifle through most of Permission To Land, a couple of tracks from Hot Cakes and the odd foray into earlier material. It’s a joyous revisiting of a time when they were the biggest band in the country, and it speaks volumes that the second album, the one which broke them, is represented here by only one song.
The only gripe is that, while they play all the songs you want to hear and play them brilliantly, they also play them fast. Very fast. Including three encores, amongst them their mauling of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit’, the show clocks in at a mere 75 minutes and one can’t help but feel a little short-changed.
The boys are back in town, no question. It’s just a shame they didn’t fancy staying a little longer.
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