It feels like a lifetime since The Darkness gallivanted around the country plying their musical wares to willing ears. Spurred by their latest offering, Pinewood Smile, the most Darkness-y album ever, and with Rufus Tiger Taylor now firmly in the fold, it’s all systems go. Wandering into the O2 Academy shortly after doors open, the place is already filling fast and every second person is wearing shirts with The Darkness’ logo with the odd Winter Storm 2017 dabbled in there for good measure. I love a band with a passionate fanbase.
Taking the stage to a relatively full room, Blackfoot Gypsies greet the crowd with a Cockney “’Ello, Glasgow!”. With a name like that, you’d expect something from America. Frontman Matthew Paige quickly admits it’s his attempt at a Glaswegian accent and his own native accent reveals the band’s Tennessee origins. That aside, the band proceed through a half-hour set of sludgy garage-inspired blues. Their mid-late 60s sound bounces around the hall with an incredibly muddy sound – a symptom of the venue but here with the vibe of band, it strangely works. The four-piece are well put together and the old-school sound makes for a great start to the evening.
Lights go down to massive cheers and as The Darkness emerge and take their places, the cheers reach fever pitch before “Open Fire” kicks off the night’s proceedings before following it up with “Love is Only a Feeling”. “Southern Trains” – the band’s ode to Southern Rail’s reportedly bad service is the first of the new songs and is met with cheers. Naturally, however, it’s the Permission to Land songs which get the warmest reception of the night with songs like “Friday Night”, “Black Shuck” and “Givin’ Up”. Whilst One Way Ticket to Hell…And Back couldn’t follow up the debut, there were some gems on there and it feels a bit neglected with only the title track being performed.
However, as bassist Frankie Poullain arms himself with cowbell and drumstick to introduce it after some showing off, the band launch into an impromptu “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” which naturally has the crowd singing it, word perfect, I may add. Much like its predecessor, the only attention given to Hot Cakes is “Every Inch of You” and whilst that album was not their finest hour, “She’s Just a Girl, Eddie” and “With a Woman” were great songs. “Barbarian” is the only other song from Last of Our Kind but nothing from that album feels omitted as they didn’t lean too heavily on it when touring with it a couple of years back.
The swipe at the music industry “Solid Gold” and “All the Pretty Girls” show the band at their flamboyant best and it’s these sorts of songs which show Justin Hawkins having the most fun on stage. Meanwhile, Rufus Taylor, locked behind one of the smallest drumkits I’ve seen in recent memory shows what a solid drummer he is, reminiscent of his father (Rufus is the son of rock royalty – literally). His best moments naturally come from the Pinewood Smile material with it being his own contribution and he tackles the pre-existing material with his own flair.
The dual Les Pauls of Justin and Dan Hawkins (both in their trademark one-piece and Thin Lizzy shirt, respectively) deliver massive, chunky riffs and as Justin fiddles about with blues scales during the encore, you realise what under-rated guitarists the pair of them are. However, as an entire band, they’re tighter than ever and it’s plain to see they’re enjoying themselves as they always have.
The encore brings with it the deliciously heavy and tongue-in-cheek “Japanese Prisoner of Love” before one of only three acceptable Christmas songs is aired (the other two were by Queen, for reference). Then, of course, the moment so many people have been waiting for, but not before there’s a blues rendition of it. Full of high-pitched screams, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” brings the evening to an end. A great way to end what has been a stellar performance to the point it outclasses last time around.
There’s still that slight niggle of the over-reliance on Permission… given how good the new album was and there are gems on the other albums. But since so many people demand to hear an album full of concrete belters, who are The Darkness to not give the people what they want?
Photos by Topher O’Meagher of Watchmaker Studios