Considering that their latest album is called ‘Easter is Cancelled’, The Darkness have pulled off a startling and very successful resurrection. Everybody knows the story: the band brought rock firmly back into the mainstream consciousness, making them a band that everyone loved but then egos, drink and drugs brought a messy and sudden end to their plans of world domination.
Five years later, healthier and fitter, the band came back strongly with the release with ‘Hot Cakes’ and have been making up for lost ground ever since, the new album is proving to be their best since the game changing full length debut of ‘Permission to Land’.
More confident than ever and on the back of a triumphant ‘hometown’ show the previous evening, Lowestoft’s eight-legged saviours of rock rode into the University city to spread some festive cheer and Santa’s-sack-sized riffs.
It shows the huge faith the band have in the new material that the night is split into two halves: the first a track by track run through of ‘Easter is Cancelled’ with the second a romp through fan favourites and greatest hits. With ecumenical arches of light behind them, the four piece took their places on the darkened stage and, all dressed head to toe in white, broke into the acoustic intro of ‘Rock and Roll Deserves to Die’.
There was a palpable air of anticipation as the gentle strumming wound its languid way to the first gonzoid breakout of riffs that pepper the song and the sold out crowd duly went crazy when these arrived.
It’s a treat to hear the band at full force once again, the Hawkins brothers wringing every last bit of emotion from their instruments as Justin pulls shapes and sings in that incredible falsetto, Frankie Poullain still looks like one of coolest and most exotic bass players on the planet and ‘new boy’ Rufus Taylor brings a youthful style and aggression to his admirably unflashy playing and minimal drum kit.
With the addition of Taylor to the band, there seems to be a sense of camaraderie and excitement that has not been reached before and this new sense of purpose has, seemingly, been the lift that the band needed to further continue this ascendency back to the top.
‘How Could I Lose Your Love’ comes across as a hazy Summer memory, ‘Deckchairs’ as some sort of mad tribute to the whimsical material Freddie Mercury used to write for Queen and ‘Easter is Cancelled’ is a full-on, heads down rocker that brings with it a sea of flying hair and fists raised aloft in salute.
The hilarious ‘Heavy Metal Lover’ is another song that typifies why the band are so well loved, it’s tongue in cheek lyrics both a loving paeon to the genre and a very clever series of plays on words, even featuring a rap by Dan Hawkins that was played strictly for laughs. You never get po faced introspection with The Darkness or any overwhelming earnestness, just a great night with a band who know how to rock hard and give an audience as good a time as they are having onstage.
The old view that some held of the band being a joke one is both utterly dismissive and a gross misunderstanding and underestimation of their craft as musicians and songwriters.
Behind the knowing winks are four men who perform some of the best rock music around and have honed their craft over many years of just getting out on the road and playing. Nothing happens by accident (despite the devil may care attitude displayed by the frontman at times) and it all comes together beautifully in a mighty blast of sound and light, something that people seem to appreciate as many dates on this tour sold out almost as soon as it was announced.
‘In Another Life’ creates an arena sized spectacle in a theatre sized venue and closing number of the set ‘We are the Guitar Men’ sees Hawkins deftly weaving lyrics into the track to quell an over–enthusiastic audience member, the song itself another example of all that makes the band great and confirms the whole of ‘Easter is Cancelled’ to be one of the best things they have ever recorded.
Following a quick change into a more disparate set of clothes, they emerge for Round Two and, starting with Poullain rousing the crowd with a cowbell, tear into ‘One Way Ticket’ as, once more, those present are whipped into a frenzy.
A brutal ‘Barbarian’ lives up to its title before the band bring a joyful reminder of their early years in the form of the ever popular ‘Growing on Me’, the Friday night audience shedding the last vestiges of reserve as they throw all inhibitions to the wind and get caught up in the mass singalong that the anthem promotes.
Japanese Prisoner of Love’ is a heads down rush before the band play the big, proper, power ballad ‘Love is Only a Feeling’, one of the most beautiful and well-constructed songs in their arsenal, a five minute slice of utter perfection. The 70’s hard rock of ‘Solid Gold’ sounds like a cross between KISS and Bad Company sees them strutting with the best of them, Dan Hawkins in his favourite black leather jacket and Thin Lizzy t-shirt hunched, head down over his guitar as his brother prowled the stage, a man truly in his element.
Seamlessly interweaving ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ into their ferocious and quite brilliant cover of Radiohead classic ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ was a masterstroke as they then rushed to the finish line with the tough as nails ‘Get Your Hands off My Woman’, which saw Justin do a hand stand on the drum riser, and a glorious ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’.
This last section fitted so well with what came in the first half of the evening that, barring the natural break for the change of clothes and to draw a distinct line between the two sets, material both old and new can easily stand side by side in its quality. There was only time for a one song encore but thankfully the seasonal ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’ was all that was needed, leaving the crowd to make their happy ways home, smiles on every face and the sound of ringing in every ear.
The Darkness are truly back where they belong, the East Coast titans stronger than ever.
Review by Paul Monkhouse for Metal Planet Music
Photography by Daniel Ackerley-Holmes