If you are one of the four original members of The Darkness, a band that hit its peak in 2003 but never seemed to care, where in the set do you strategically place "I Believe In a Thing Called Love"? Saving your monster hit for last makes you a tease, but playing it too early encourages warm-weather fans to skedaddle. The ballsiest move for the early 2000s cock rockers would be to play it dead first, to make a statement of their relevance or lack thereof or even just lack of giving a shit thereof -- but they didn't.
Instead, the band did the most sensible thing. In a sold out rock-revival opera, the guys played their sole mega-jam in almost a decade immediately before the encore. The end result was that it came immediately after eighteen other songs, split between both of the Queen-listening, spectacle-loving glam rockers' albums, Permission to Land and One Way Ticket to Hell ... And Back.
It came after the level of rock posturing usually reserved for a music video and more costume changes than Jesus Christ Superstar: Duck walking, Van Halen jumping, fist pounding, behind-the-head guitar-playing, bra-throwing and random bouts of thumbs-upping all made the cut in a night predicated on performance quality without performance anxiety.
So when it did come, it was worth it.
When the guys stepped onstage, their entrance was marked by the night's first lovable cliché in a long string of them. Preceded by Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town," the newly reunited quartet walked on in front of an audience that has not had the opportunity to see the band in the United States for roughly seven years. Although The Darkness' ratio of serious content to serious silliness has yet to be fully explored, that time lapse could bring a huge amount of pressure for even the most nonchalant nostalgia revival act. It seems someone forgot to tell that to Justin Hawkins, though.
Stuffed into a sleeveless leather American flag suit and bearded like Captain Jack Sparrow's crazier uncle, the lead singer provided more than half of the spectacle all by his onesie. The first note of the night was a high one, somehow sustained throughout the extensive falsetto sections of all 21 songs he, his brother and their band would amp up and crank out throughout a two-hour spectacle. Hawkins live is like if Steve Coogan had prodigious vocal range and was really, really into Freddie Mercury.
In his few shimmies to the side of the stage to drink water, Hawkins could be seen either adjusting the crotch of his current costume or changing into a new one: With both a plaid vest suit and a striped lace-up V-neck catsuit with a cod piece (a cod piece!) in the mix, the ratio of bizarre clothing to pale tattooed skin heavily favored his bare nipples. The eventual realization is a poignant one: There is a flame tattoo coming out of his down-under region. Justin Hawkins' crotch is metaphorically on fire.
But if his aesthetic presented a united -- and batshit -- front, his audience only matched in its levels of enthusiasm. Through first album highlights ("Love Is Only a Feeling," "Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman") to the band's new material, the Summit's sold-out crowd sang along to even the more obscure material, taking care to freak out sufficiently for the Darkness' eerie and ear-catching cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit" and enthusiastically obeying Hawkins' request to "show us your fucking thumbs."
The Darkness have clearly returned to peak performance shape, and the band played almost all of its material....
You've yet to see crowd feedback until you've heard (and survived) the Darkness' diva crowd rocking out in full-on falsetto. (It should be noted that the night's small talk was less spectacular than its vocal range, however: At one point, Hawkins actually shouted, "Give me a D! Give me an Enver!")
If someone had approached the Darkness about a decade ago, warned the guys about their forthcoming cocaine problems, the shutdown of Napster, the rise of iTunes and a little woman named Lady Gaga and then had them cryogenically frozen, the band could not have been more on par with its original aesthetic and more loveably ignorant of its modern evolution than it was last night.
It's not all brazen badassery: About halfway through the set, Hawkins returned to the stage alone, albeit in a tophat, for a solo acoustic rendition of "Holding My Own" that was surprisingly lovely and utterly sincere. But if the audience was impressed by its band's return to peak shape, -- crotch fires still burning and all that -- the band was equally impressed with the people miserably squandering its falsetto.
After all, Denver is responsible for the band's first two bras thrown onstage during this reunion tour. After the second, an enormous hot pink affair, hit Hawkins, he finally addressed the issue. "Can I be one of you mountain folk?" he asked, all British accent and shirtless swagger. "I've got the lungs for it, haven't I?
Personal Bias: I went through a Darkness phase in high school, the highlight of which was my French teacher catching me shouting "Get your hands off my woman, motherfucker!" in my car on the way home from school. Madame Taylor was not impressed.
By The Way: The Summit might have the worst crowd small talk in Denver. Seriously, the dude (read: asshole) behind me "took a crap in the urinal just because I can."
Random Detail: Ohio rockers Foxy Shazam earned a huge wave of adoration before the Darkness took the stage and are a surprisingly adept pairing to their ridiculous counterpart. If you haven't already, check out their own more experimental take on glam rock, which they describe as "white music for black people."
The Darkness Summit Music Hall - 2/15/12 Denver, CO
01. "Black Shuck" 02. "Growing On Me" 03. "Best Of Me" 04. "One Way Ticket" 05. "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" 06. "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" 07. "I Can't Believe It's Not Love" 08. "Holding My Own" 09. "Love is Only a Feeling" 10. "Concrete" 11. "Friday Night" 12. "Everybody's Having a Good Time" 13. "Physical Sex" 14. "Is It Just Me?" 15. "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" (Radiohead cover) 16. "She's Just a Girl, Eddie" 17. "Givin' Up" 18. "Stuck in a Rut" 19. "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"
20. "Bareback" 21. "Love On the Rocks With No Ice"
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