Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON February 1
Chuck Klosterman once wrote that the Darkness would never truly make it in North America. The U.S., he argued, would never embrace the band the way England had, because their music was neither completely serious nor fully tongue-in-cheek. To America, the Darkness we just too damn clever.
His prediction proved dead-on. Despite scoring a minor hit with "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," the Darkness never conquered stadiums here the way they did in Europe, but the band still managed to sell out their Toronto stop on their current reunion tour with a crowd that mixed both fans of their over-the-top image and indiscriminating hard rockers.
After blasting the room with Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town," the quartet hit the stage. Led by singer and sometimes guitarist Justin Hawkins, who apparently spent his time apart from the band growing some ill-conceived facial hair, they wasted no time whipping the crowd into a frenzy, knocking out "Black Shuck" and "Growing on Me" at a quick clip. Digging deep next with Permission to Land-era B-side "Best of Me," it was clear the Darkness were keen to lean on that record's massive success and eventually played all ten of the album's tracks.
Hawkins's vocals haven't aged a day and the rest of the group (guitarist Dan Hawkins, drummer Ed Graham and bass player Frankie Poullain) laid down solid slabs of AC/DC-esque riffs. Though the Darkness lacked the edge they'd once had, the band worked their way through the set like seasoned pros, used to playing far bigger venues than this mid-sized club.
The band barely acknowledged their lacklustre sophomore record, One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back. And while the crowd welcomed both the title track and "Is it Just Me?" it was disappointing to not hear standouts "Dinner Lady Arms" and "Knockers," a song about fumbling through what was once routine. At times, Hawkins looked as if he was doing just that, appearing a tad unsure what to do with himself onstage. But most of the time, he hit all the right notes, leading the crowd through vocal exercises like Freddie Mercury and even stepping off stage briefly to change into a jailbird-inspired unitard.
Perhaps inevitably, the Darkness have written new material; they played it and received a lukewarm reaction. New songs like "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" seemed to skip those clever double entendres that marked their best work and leaned on good-time rockisms (an album is apparently in the can and waiting to be titled and sequenced). It was clear that the crowd, while hardly hostile, was there for the old songs. Less expected was a surprising cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," which the band turned into the Randy Rhodes-era Ozzy rocker it was (apparently) always meant to be.
After delivering the goods with "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," the Darkness retired for a minute before retaking the stage for their encore. Hawkins emerged with a third costume change, this time sporting in a Bovine Sex Club tee, much to the delight of the fans, and finished the night with "Love on the Rocks with No Ice." While it's unclear where the Darkness have to go from here -- musical progression never really seemed like their M.O. -- it was clear the band and their fans are glad to be back together.
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