The last time I saw The Darkness perform live was at Reading Festival in 2004 during the height of their Permission to Land phase and I loved every single second of their on-stage madness. Since then, the band has released a second album, One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back (which was significantly less popular than its predecessor), bassist Frankie Poullain left, a new bassist joined, lead vocalist Justin Hawkins left, and then the band split. So in 2006 it looked like it was the end, as each of the members went off to form their own side projects (including the bands Hot Leg and The Stone Gods). However 2011 saw a shock reunion and a third album, Hot Cakes, was released in 2012.
As the catsuit-clad and tattooed half naked torso of Justin Hawkins bounded onto the stage of the Wolverhampton Civic Hall, the audience were met with as much eccentricity as ever (I heard one lady there describe his look as ‘Jesus meets Beetlejuice’, although I would describe it personally as ‘Robert Plant meets Jack Sparrow, meets an Everton mint’). As first song of the evening Every Inch of You kicked in, Justin let out a shriek of “Suck my cock!” and the curtain at the back of the stage rose to reveal the drum kit and several Marshall amp stacks along with the other three members of the band; Ed Graham on drums, Frankie Poullain on bass and Dan Hawkins on guitar. Chaos commenced.
Throughout the night, the crowd were treated to energetic theatrics which emulated many of the great classic rock bands, as The Darkness put on a larger-than-life performance – strutting around the stage, taking ridiculous leaps from the drum riser and amps, power poses and oh so many guitar solos. As Justin’s falsetto tones belted out a selection of their ‘classics’, such as Growing on Me, Get Your Hands Off My Woman and Black Shuck along with several newbies from latest album Hot Cakes, he clearly saw himself as the grand master of ceremonies. He never stopped moving; even leaping up to do the splits mid air at one point and a handstand on the drum riser at another. Watching him perform you can see he lives and breathes rock music and being on stage he exudes natural showmanship, never stopping for a break from entertaining the crowd’s viewing eyes. Even during slower tracks Love is Only a Feeling and How Dare You Call This Love, the band give it their all so nobody is bored.
Everyone in the audience went unmistakably crazy for the band’s most famous track I Believe in A Thing Called Love, which closed their set closer. As the band left the stage the whole room erupted in applause, with cheers and shouts for an encore. Of course, with The Darkness being the natural showmen that they are, they were only too happy to oblige. After the first song of the encore The Best of Me had been played, the audience began to sing their own version of the band’s 2003 Christmas release Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) which seemed to amuse the lads somewhat (to quote Justin Hawkins, “That’s the first time that’s happened this year… you’re all crazy; It’s fucking March!”) and we were treated to the first verse and chorus by the band. The Darkness’ penultimate track of the evening was a cover of Radiohead’s 1996 classic Street Spirit (Fade Out), which was a rather different and much quicker version than the original. Then everything was wrapped up with an anthem from their debut album, Love On The Rocks With No Ice as Justin took a ride around the audience on the shoulders of a security guard whilst playing the guitar behind his head.
It may have been almost 10 years since The Darkness released their debut album and Justin Hawkins may have grown a beard and cut his hair; but he certainly hasn’t grown up on stage (thank goodness). If you’re looking for charisma, energy by the bucket load and all round madness, look no further.