The Darkness at the Vic Theatre | Live review + photo gallery
Chalk it up to the vagaries of pop culture fashion, the cruelty of the music industry or a failure of the media to do its job of separating the wheat from the chaff—but at the end of the Darkness show last night one couldn't help but wonder: Why on earth are the Darkness playing a place as cozy as the Vic? I mean, hell, we're lucky to be here, but this band should be absolutely friggin' mega.
A Darkness live show overflows with the kind of virtuoso technique, natural charm and smooth showmanship that could please rock-loving people in venues many times the size. (On Lady Gaga's 2012 European tour, it seems, it did just that.) Blame the addiction and personal issues that derailed the quartet in 2006 for the band's limited "comeback" stature in the States at present? Perhaps. Whatever the case, those of us who made the scene last night were tagging our Instagram photos with #blessed and #freddiemercurybodysuit—that's if we could take our eyes off the stage for a second. With the Darkness, you don't want to miss a moment.
Confident in their new material from 2012's excellent Hot Cakes, the Darkness have updated the set appropriately. Last night it included "Every Inch of You," "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" and other newbies. The new tunes emphasize the band's pop wizardry (the Hawkins brothers could improve a Taylor Swift album immeasurably) and bravado, standing up tall next to the likes of early hit "I Believe in a Thing Called Love."
For those that saw the newly reunited band at the Metro last February, the variation was a good thing, but the over-the-top showmanship was at a similarly high level. Justin Hawkins in a black-and-white Freddie Mercury-style bodysuit sported the look and physique of a pirate/surfer, while his brother donned his trademark Thin Lizzy shirt and bassist Frankie Poullain wore his signature scarves, afro and silky spacesuit. Both Hawkins brothers kicked and pranced like aerobics instructors, but somehow never looked foolish.
Those who have confused the Darkness with ironic jokesters or hair-metal tribute acts continue to entirely miss the point. The Darkness knows rock and pop moves and clichés backwards and forwards, toying with them in songs that are both a send-up and celebration of hard-rock candy. Def Leppard, Queen and the over-the-top Brit rock of yore is a constant touchstone, but the band balances their glam pomp and balladry with a working-class guitar craft that owes a debt to Thin Lizzy. It's a balanced musical meal—executed with transparent precision. But the band's charismatic songwriting is its ace in the hole: effortlessly funny, supremely catchy and utterly unique. If one gets past the cartoonish surface, the Darkness is more cerebral than its forebears, but on another level, it's always about the sheer joy of great rock 'n' roll. And that's the key: It's more joy than joke.
There were no wardrobe changes for Justin this time, which gave the band added momentum, but Hawkins delivered in the stagecraft department. Observing some vomit left on the floor at stage right, he couldn't help coming back to joke about it—"Back in school, you put sand down, it's all better." And he laughed off his past travails with cocaine and heroin—the latter while introducing the smack anthem "Givin' Up." In contrast to last year's show, which seemed to come on like a flurry of respect-earning knock-out punches, last night's allowed more room for spontaneous audience participation—Hawkins had us sing a breakdown finale to "Get Your Hands Off of My Woman" but not without a critique—" a little bit untidy at the end there," he quipped.
The band also relished extracting any strange moments out of the set—a crowd surfer who surfed with his eyes glued to his cellphone had the Hawkins brothers laughing—and Justin's own crowdsurfing/balcony jumping stunt in "Love on the Rocks" had him travel all the way to the back of the main floor of the venue. It took forever. The band's take on the hard-rock drum solo was also subtly funny—it featured drummer Ed Graham sitting silent on the kit for a good thirty seconds. That might have been grin-inducing, but to the Darkness, it's no joke.
Every Inch of You
Growing On Me
She's Just a Girl, Eddie
One Way Ticket to Hell and Back
Nothing's Gonna Stop Us
Get Your Hands Off of My Woman
Love is Only a Feeling
Live in This Day Blind
Is it Just Me
Stuck in a Rut
I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Get the Best of Me
Street Spirit (Fade Out) (Radiohead cover)
Love on the Rocks with No Ice