I have seen The Darkness, a gloriously entertaining rock quartet in the vein of Queen (but with even more swagger and cockiness) in concert 4 times now. Every show has had the band doing so many of the exact same things in the exact same way, and yet the skill and energy with which they are executed has made each show better than the one before. That’s a truly impressive feat.
“Is this the part of town where people write on the walls?” asked lead singer Justin Hawkins Sunday night during the band’s show at Terminal 5. The question was most likely inspired by the forever-riddled with never-progressing construction and general rundown-ed-ness of 56th between 11th Ave and the West Side Highway, a block more suited to be down the street from the Carlyle Building in New Jack City than mere steps from the gleaming tower that is the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle. (In the classic Ice-T/Wesley Snipes film New Jack City, The Carlyle was that giant apartment building-turned crack den. What? You haven’t seen New Jack City? Dude. You gotta check it out!)
The crowd was comprised of tween-age girls, balding 40-somethings, frat boys, geeks, dweebos, jocks, motorheads…you get the idea. It was a surprise when the houselights went down around 9:15pm, seeing as the band was slated to take the stage 20 minutes later. “The Boys Are Back in Town” came over the PA system (it has been The Darkness’ entrance music for some time now), and whereas most bands come on stage within seconds of their walk-out music being played, the four men from the England (Lowestoft, Suffolk specifically, for those keeping track) allowed the song to play in its’ entirety, followed by half a song of generic 80s synth-driven arena rock instrumental, before emerging onstage. Perhaps they knew the lights had gone down early, and were trying to run out the clock (A sports reference! I never make those!). What’s more likely is that the band just wanted anticipation to reach a fevered pitch before kicking things off.
Since their US mini-tour back in February, The Darkness has opened their shows with “Every Inch of You”, the first track on their latest album, Hot Cakes. The band’s show opener since 2003, “Black Shuck,” has been pushed to the Number Two spot. Leading into “She’s Just A Girl, Eddie” (also off of Hot Cakes), Justin, as in the past, played cheerleader for a moment, beckoning for the crowd to “Gimme a D! Gimme an Arkness!”
Bassist Frankie Poullain recently said that because of his limited technical skills, he’s very aware of the role he plays in the band, a role he believes to be quite crucial, which is that of a primitive musician, playing without an ego, not getting in the way of the other members. He did however step into a spotlight of sorts at times, taking every opportunity he could to initiate a venue-wide clap-along.
Justin often evokes the spirit of David Lee Roth onstage, peppering sets (Sunday’s included) with jumping mid-air splits, and the occasional handstand on the front of Ed Graham’s drum riser. After a key piece of equipment fell offstage during the breakdown in “Get Your Hands Off of My Woman”, Justin feigned dismay (“I feel naked without my mike stand”), and then brought a young man from the crowd up onstage to trade vocals with him for the song’s final words. (But not before the young man took off his sweatshirt and threw it offstage left, followed by his t-shirt, which was thrown offstage right.) The man lept onto Justin for a hug, and then, fulfilling every concertgoer’s fantasy (or perhaps just mine), exited his moment in the spotlight via stage-dive.
Following the conclusion of that song, Justin simply stood at the edge of the stage for what seemed like a longer-than-usual amount of time. To the casual observer, it would appear that he was savoring the moment, reveling in the fact that Terminal 5 is the largest venue his band has played here in the world’s most famous city. What’s more likely is that Justin was lingering at the lip of the stage to afford the audience the precious opportunity to bask in his glory. Few men can pull off such perceived arrogant behavior and only be loved more for it. It’s impossible to not enjoy the man’s onstage presence.
At one point during the show, Justin gave the crowd an extremely amusing (as most things he does onstage are) impromptu guitar lesson, with the help of Dan Hawkins, his younger brother/lead guitarist. “(To Dan:) Play them a D chord. (To audience:) That’s what a D sounds like. And when Dan takes this finger away, it becomes a minor chord. It’s much darker, right?”). (Fun fact: In the band’s near 12-year existence, Dan has (seemingly) never performed onstage without a Thin Lizzy t-shirt.)
An incredibly brief anecdote of the band’s travels yesterday was immediately followed by the non-sequitur “Where we’re from, it’s all about heroin.” Any true fan of The Darkness knew that the band’s ode to ruining one’s veins, “Givin’ Up,” would be next in the set, and in case the crowd forget that Justin was more than just one of the most charismatic, acrobatic, flamboyant lead singers to come along in many years, he picked up a guitar in the middle of the song (not the first time he had done so that night) and perfectly replicated the exceptionally intricate and technical guitar solo that comes just before the song’s final chorus.
As is the case on 2003’s Permission to Land, “Givin’ Up” hadn’t been over for more than a second before Ed Graham played the first drumbeat of “Stuck in a Rut”. The band closed its’ set with their breakthrough single, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” which received the loudest ovation of the night…until later.
The house lights went up, and the inevitable wait for an encore began. Five minutes (or so) of a quiet yet persistent din later, the faint chant of “Dark-ness” could be heard, growing steadily until it filled Terminal 5. Only after that did the band reappear, seemingly having held out until the crowd was in a state of enthusiastic desperation that was worthy of more Rock n Roll.
The encore featured “Hazel Eyes,” off of 2005’s One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back, a track that has rarely been played live, mostly due to the fact that the band never extensively toured behind the album thanks to Justin’s entering rehab for heroin addiction and the band’s subsequent break-up (which thankfully has proven to be just a 5-year hiatus). The song saw Dan Hawkins’ stand atop the drum riser, an atypical moment in the spotlight for him, in a location usually reserved for Justin and Justin alone.
Before launching into “Love on the Rocks With No Ice,” which has closed out every show The Darkness have ever played, Justin took notice of a particular fan in the crowd (“Is that a man clapping over there? Let’s do that.”). Then, he let the audience know that the show was almost over. “This will be our last song.” (That was met with 3,000 boos.) “But don’t worry. It goes on for fuckin’ ages.” (3,000 yays)
As the song segued into the guitar solo at the end, Justin, as he has done so many times before, hopped onto the shoulders of a refrigerator-sized security guard, playing the solo as the hulking man walked a giant semi-circle through the crowd, dropping Justin off at the other side of the stage to a deafening audience roar.
When the houselights came up at the end of the night and the crowd was filing out, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life)” came over the PA, as it has at so many of The Darkness’ shows before it. Perhaps it was the band wanting to inform those who didn’t already know, or remind the ones who did, that they just saw The Darkness perform live, and it was amazing.