Show Review

The Darkness @ House of Blues 4/24

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     (Sanchez/2016)
Lisa Sanchez​

There aren’t a lot of bands that really give you a show any more. Sure, they play their songs live, they acknowledge the audience’s presence, but somewhere down the line, performers abandoned the persona and showmanship that really make concerts great. The Darkness, however, still embody this spirit in the most entertaining way.
 
The UK power rock quartet performed at House of Blues on Sunday, April 24 and reminded Cleveland what’s like to see a band with some gusto. The Darkness is comprised of the flamboyant and wildly entertaining vocalist Justin Hawkins, his brother/guitarist Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain, and drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor. The Darkness’s show is part of their Back to the USSA tour and marks their first time in Cleveland since 2003.
 
The Darkness had a stage set up like a music video. There were huge block lights on either side of the stage and throughout the evening they would flash bright to punctuate the songs. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Darkness’s live show. They have a very distinctive look, capturing a “golden era” of rock and roll filled with sequined jump suits and perfect hair, but I wondered if they could pull it off live. Well, the moment Hawkins came out wearing a jump suit that looked like a circus tent fastened with epaulets, I knew I was going to have a good time.
 
The band kicked off their performance with “Barbarian” the first track off their latest album, Last of Our Kind, released in June of last year. The song features some of Hawkins signature falsettos, which I was pleasantly surprised he could replicate live. Little did I know the singer would be showing off his angelic chords for the rest of the night, both during a song or just for kicks.
 
“Give me a D!” shouted Hawkins, “Give me an ‘arkness!” chimed the singer after the band two more new tracks, “Growing on Me” and “Mudslide.” The singer never falters in his stage presence. Either Hawkins is the living embodiment of semi-androgynous sex appeal combined with a goofy 80s rock god or he is simply a fantastic actor. The vocalist put on a one man carnival roaming around the stage, doing jumps off the bass drum,  executing daring head stands, and constantly reminding us how charming the brits are.
 
Although Hawkins steals the show (the man could wear a paper bag and a Dickies work uniform and be naturally more fabulous than anyone in the room) the rest of The Darkness are pivotal as well. Poullain never missed a driving bass line throughout the groovy “Roaring Waters” or the hoppin’ up-tempo rock opera-esque “English Country Garden.” The bassist remained consistently silent, but cool. He threw out picks throughout the set and reminded me of the guy who leaned against your locker in high school when you needed your textbooks, but he was so cool you just didn’t care.

As talented musicians, The Darkness didn’t shy away from any song at the House of Blues. The band rolled out a large piano for “Friday Night,” their poppy semi-ballad from the 2003's Permission to Land. I had never heard the song before and it was great to watch Hawkins alternate between vocals, guitar, and piano, sometimes all at once. As an added bonus, Hawkins brought a fan named Carly onstage and explained that, feeling encumbered by the piano, he looked out into the crowd at a show in Silver Springs and saw her dancing her heart out.
 
“Carly, queen of…basically tonight,” laughed Hawkins. Carly tore up The Darkness’s stage with some freewheeling dance moves for both “Friday Night” and “English Country Garden.” The band was all about her performance and Hawkins laughed throughout both songs.
​I was really taken with the band’s stage presence and general rapport with their fans. After Carly left the stage, another fan proclaimed into the microphone, “I’m 62 years old and this band is fucking tight!” The Darkness has such an eclectic, lively, brilliant group of fans that it started to make me wonder if they were all actors in some elaborate stage production they put on every night in a different city. I’m sure the band just inspired that level of fandom in people.
 
Of course, The Darkness had to play their signature song, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” The mega hit put the band on the map in the early 2000s and has been their mainstay ever since. Instead of playing it up on stage, Hawkins let the fans do the work. He explained, “I’m going to show you how to dance to our most famous song,” then went through the motions of swinging his hips, clapping, and jumping.
 
“I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was the band’s last song, but they performed it very well, even though they’ve probably played that song more than all of their others combined. The fans ate it up and followed Hawkin’s dance instructions perfectly. Although “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” is the most famous Darkness song, they didn’t get an insane response when they played it. The fans were just there for them, not for a song that was more than a decade old at this point.
 
However, the show wasn’t over yet. The Darkness came back for a lengthy encore of “Love On the Rocks with No Ice.” The band took their time with the song (the performance was more than ten minutes long) and I’ve never seen an encore quite like it. Hawkins, who had been dramatically bitching about their previous show in Nashville for some of the evening,  announced he reserved his “pick of peace” for someone who was a Nashville fan. “This is the pick I save for the person I’ve pissed off the most,” he quipped. Although the Nashville digs were all in jest, Hawkins used it to his advantage.

In a true act of showmanship, Hawkins skirted around the edge of the stage and onto the shoulders of a very large man. From there, he literally played guitar on the shoulders of a giant. Wading through the crowd, the front man didn’t miss a note and made his way straight through the center of the crowd. He eventually made it back onto the stage and when he did I realized I was truly disappointed The Darkness were about to leave the stage. They made their last song really count.
 
I would see The Darkness again. In fact, if I didn’t have a job and cats to support, I would take a few weeks to follow around the carnival big top they present as a rock and roll band. The quartet were musically precise, their banter was witty and memorable, and they had a stage presence and live performance that I’ve never seen any other modern band pull off.
 
The Darkness harness the charm and talent of an older generation of music. They legitimately enjoy what they do and put their all into doing it well, both on stage and on album. After their performance at House of Blues, I feel like I know them better as a band and as a musical entity. It’s a mistake to discount the chaps in The Darkness as less than talented artists. They’re still going places, and I want to be there when they arrive.