“We are motherfucking Darkness, from the fucking United fucking Kingdom, and we are here on business.”
The Darkness singer Justin Hawkins wasn’t kidding. For Sunday’s show at The Vic, the newly revived British act came prepared with the mental ammunition and comfortable body language inherent to skilled professionals. Hopefully the young crowd learned a thing or two. Grizzly outliers aside, the audience comprised fresh-faced kids not far removed from high school (meaning they were mastering long division when Permission to Land dropped).
If the young’uns were at all self-conscious about letting loose at a show, Southern California’s Hell or High Water cracked them open like a beer can, one breathless rush of muscular pop-metal at a time. Songs like “Crash and Burn” felt like falling from a hundred-story building while your record collection flashes before your eyes. The husky singer, head shaven and wearing his own band’s T-shirt (a fashion choice soon to be echoed by Darkness’ drummer), sounded like Patrick Stump after a testosterone injection. Good-natured even in the face of mild technical problems, he was bent on making audience participation a near-workout, disappearing into the crowd with the primary goal of high-fiving as many kids as possible.
After intermission music featuring Aerosmith and Thin Lizzy, the main attraction’s logo lowered behind the drum kit, soundtracked by a minute of pompous Zeppelin-esque intro music that implied an impending battle between good and evil. It’s hard to say who made this suggestion first, the band or its critics; nearly every Darkness review puts their music in such terms, the writer wringing his hands raw about the level of irony or self-awareness in the band’s music, which must have been written to either (a) fight the forces of indie elitism, or (b) troll everyone mercilessly. The audience clearly didn’t care about any of that—they were as earnestly into it as anyone could be without donning facepaint.
While guitarist Dan Hawkins rocked a classic Thin Lizzy t-shirt, Afro’d bassist Frankie Poullain wore a gold-and-black leather suit that suggested he’d be at home in a 30th century version of At the Drive-In. And then there was big brother Justin, the frontman who never met a falsetto he couldn’t nail, sporting some unruly Van Dyke facial hair and a striped jumpsuit cut down the middle to reveal pierced nipples and symmetrical chest tattoos. If Russell Brand is ever unavailable for a movie role, let’s hope a casting director opts for the real thing instead.
Hips were thrust. Bottoms shaken. Poses struck. And banter was, um, bantered.
“Why’s there a gap?” Hawkins inquired in his British lilt regarding an awkward opening in the crowd, only to learn the audience had cleared a space around some fresh vomit. “They puked and left! That’s just rude,” he opined before examining the unsavory contents and determining the culprit was a vegan. He called for sand (“that’s what they used to do in school, isn’t it?”), and security settled for throwing towels on the ground.
The setlist chose almost evenly from the band’s three albums, which seemed modest considering last year’s Hot Cakes was one of 2012’s most welcome surprises. And when the crowd needed a mid-set lift after being desensitized with high-kicks and more poses, the band was ready with a booster shot (“Is It Just Me?” from 2005’s criminally overlooked One Way Ticket To Hell…and Back).
Hawkins could be as poignant as he could funny, prefacing “One Way Ticket” by saying “I used to do a lot of cocaine just to, you know, sharpen me up. But I don’t do that anymore, because I have you guys.” You could tell he meant it, but he was always quick to balance out the tender moments with a laugh, lest things get too maudlin. “This song’s about a time in my life when the only thing that mattered was heroin,” he said, turning away from the crowd before joking “…this afternoon!”
The younger Hawkins did some brief phallic thrusts of his guitar neck, but most theatrics were reserved for his extrovert brother, a post-Freddie frontman if there ever was one. Even when Justin’s voice is resting, the man’s showmanship isn’t. At one point, he tossed a pick in the air and kicked it into the audience with the heel of his shoe, barely looking over his shoulder. Later, he did a headstand and clapped with his legs as Dan soloed on his knees, in a sort of stadium-rawk sibling hug. The crowd ate it up, but the real applause was reserved for the hits, with deafening cheers greeting the live warhorses “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and “One Way Ticket.”
Several songs broke for a capella audience participation, notably “Get Your Hands Off My Woman,” with a full house belting the four-syllable swear following the title phrase. The Darkness might recall the more pompous strains of the pre-punk era, but in a live setting, the condescending barrier between artist and fan is non-existent. Even in the face of a little vomit.
The Darkness at The Vic Theatre on Jan. 27, 2013 setlist:
- “Every Inch of You”
- “Black Shuck”
- “Growing On Me”
- “She’s Just A Girl, Eddie”
- “One-Way Ticket”
- “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us”
- “Get Your Hands Off My Woman”
- “Love Is Only A Feeling”
- “Friday Night”
- “Living Each Day Blind”
- “Is It Just Me? (On My Own Again)”
- “Givin’ Up”
- “I Believe In a Thing Called Love”
- “The Best of Me”
- “Love On the Rocks with No Ice”