with The Wildhearts
The Darkness' debut CD Permission to Land hasn't left my car's 6-disc changer since I bought it a few months ago. I find the album's effusive throwback glam rock to be irresistible. It's the perfect mood-elevator for LA traffic jams. I followed the media explosion as the hype built around the band and was excited to learn they were mounting their first US tour. Amazingly, I actually managed to get through on ticketmaster.com and get a ticket. The band sold out all of their US shows and probably could have sold out larger venues. I attended the first of two LA shows that marked the end of their US tour.
Having only moved to LA last summer, I missed the whole 80s "Welcome to the Jungle" Sunset Strip glam metal scene by, well, about 15 years. This show gave me a second chance to feel like I was a part of the scene - or the revival of the scene. I got to the Henry Fonda Theater shortly after the doors had opened and the venue was already crowded. The air was thick with anticipation and aqua net. Several people admired my vintage Ozzy and Lita "Close My Eyes Forever" T-shirt. One guy said, "Isn't it great that OUR music is getting played on the radio again?" There was a definite hope that The Darkness could bring back the glam metal movement and put the fun back into rock. And on this night in LA, they delivered.
I downed a couple of Jack and Cokes and moved into position about 10 rows of bodies back from the stage. The Wildhearts, friends of The Darkness from England, opened the show. Although pretty much unknown in the US, they have been playing together for over 10 years. They played with a lot of energy, had some great riffs, and the crowd was kind to them. Dread-locked singer Ginger informed us they would be back supporting The Darkness on another tour this summer and played songs from their upcoming album, including their catchy new single "Vanilla Radio."
A white curtain fell and the set change happened behind the curtain. More people crowded into the floor area and the balcony appeared to be full. I scanned the crowd, expecting to see Vince Neil or Tracii Guns, but didn't recognize anybody. The lights went out and the crowd screamed as the band was dramatically silhouetted against the white curtain - larger than life - an appropriate beginning. The band kicked off their set with a jam that led into "Black Shuck", the first song on Permission to Land. The crowd sang and bobbed along. They kept the momentum going with "Growing on Me" - a catchy single that is either about being unable to shake someone's love or a case of crabs, depending on who you believe.
The band sounded great live and they were a lot of fun to watch. They're all pretty homely, but singer Justin Hawkins manages to generate a strange sex appeal. With his pale skin, stringy long hair, big teeth, and heavy brows, he's not exactly teen idol material. He began the show wearing low slung jeans that showed off the flame tattoos that adorn his crotch. Chicks were screaming for him and he playfully grabbed a sign from girls in the front row that read "Take me backstage - I'm 18." Justin's brother Dan, the band's guitarist, wore a Thin Lizzy T-shirt to pay homage to one of the band's forefathers. Drummer Ed Graham stayed out of the spotlight while pounding reliably on the skins, and bassist Frankie Poullain wore a Loverboy-esque headband and a dazed expression. Mostly, it was all about Justin, although everyone played well. Maybe it's just the outrageous cat suits, but something makes it hard to take your eyes off him.
The band played several new songs and nearly all the material from Permission to Land. Spying a young child in the front row, Justin asked the kid if he wanted the clean or the nasty version of "Get your Hands Off My Woman." The kid or his parents called for the clean version, but the crowd booed. Justin was only foolin' anyway - the song wouldn't be the same without punctuating the chorus with "motherfucker." That's just rock and roll, kid.
Like any 80's glam metal band worth its salt, and quite a few who weren't worth the salt lining a margarita glass, The Darkness has a power ballad. Justin instructed everyone to hold their lighters aloft and many complied as he belted out "Love is Only a Feeling." This soon-to-be classic deserves a place in the power ballad hall of fame somewhere between White Lion's "When the Children Cry" and Dokken's "Alone Again". Though many consider the band a throwback to 80s hair metal and songs like this one can lead to that comparison, The Darkness seem to me to be much more influenced by 70s metal and glam rock icons such as Queen, AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Thin Lizzy. But as Paula Abdul might say, the band "makes it their own." They are serious about this kind of music, at a time when nobody else really is, and they are helping people rediscover why these genres once ruled the airwaves.
Midway through the set, Justin changed into one of his fabulous cat suits and The Darkness played their hit single "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." This song exemplifies their simple formula for success - songs that aren't about particularly new or deep ideas, catchy riffs, Justin's hysterical falsetto that recalls Freddie Mercury and Bon Scott, and heaps of emotion and enthusiasm. Another simple, catchy song is "Friday Night," a KISS-esque song about unrequited high school love as chronicled through a litany of extracurricular activities including needlepoint, badminton, and dancing on a Friday night. Badminton - you won't find it in a Metallica or Nirvana song. It's silly, but it's infectious. The Darkness exists to remind us that rock music doesn't have to be about war, anger, and pain - sometimes it can just be about good times.
They closed their 70-minute set with an extended, exhilarating version of "Love on the Rocks (with No Ice)" that afforded the audience one final sing along. Justin rode around the pit on the shoulders of a security guard, playing a guitar solo. This was his victory lap, proving that The Darkness has proved they were not a joke band, not over-hyped, very much the real thing. I had the distinct feeling the next time I saw them would be in an arena. It's time to revive Monsters of Rock and let them headline it.
Friends, glam rock is alive and well. I have seen the light, and it is the Darkness.
Ape Culture and all associated pages are