Gig Review: Black Stone Cherry / The Darkness / Danko Jones – Hydro, Glasgow (30th January 2023)

It’s a cold, windy and wet night in Glasgow and I’m remembering – again – how ugly the Hydro is as we approach it for what promises to be a great double-headliner. Due to work commitments, we’re later than hoped, and only get to our seats as opener Danko Jones rattles off the last song of his set. A shame as a) he’s really good and b) I’ve yet to see a full Danko set! Next time, Mr Jones. I promise!

Danko Jones (c) Gary Cooper

What I did see was very positive. The sound is good, the crowd is large and the applause is well deserved as the unit thank the audience and leave the stage. I do wonder why Danko Jones hasn’t popped up headlining larger shows as yet. It’s definitely not through lack of talent or effort. Maybe 2023 will be his year.

Our seats were all the way round stage left, front row, with a great view of everything that was to come. It’s the first time I’ve been sat around that area, and I know someone always asks where I was when I’m talking about the sound during a gig so… there you go! The Darkness bounced onto the stage to commence their 75-minute slot with all the energy and confidence that twenty-odd years of rock and roll produces. The first time I saw them was back at Leeds Festival in 2004 where someone had given a band with a single album out the entire headline slot on a Saturday. Not the most sensible booking, but The Darkness did then what they have continued to do since: rock the living hell out of the venue with the perfect mixture of arrogance and humility.

Looking at the setlists throughout this tour, the band have mixed things up a little, not playing the exact same songs each night. No surprises that the only city to get “Welcome Tae Glasgae” was Glasgow itself! Obviously designed as a song to warm the locals up, it was followed by “Growing On Me” and “Black Shuck”. The venue was as packed as I’ve seen it post-Covid, and the crowd were going mental. Hell, with a set full of top end rock quality like “One Way Ticket”, “Love Is Only A Feeling” and “Givin’ Up”, there was no way there wasn’t going to be a big sweaty mass by the end of the show.

The Darkness (c) Gary Cooper

Watching The Darkness, it’s so easy to focus on Justin as he is one hell of a showman. With the protruding upper teeth, the bonkers costumes and the strut it’s so obvious that he’s modelled a lot of his performance on Freddie Mercury, but if you’re going to try to emulate someone then there’s nothing wrong with emulating the best. Especially when you’re actually good at it. Hawkins J is a natural with the crowd, not just talking to them in general but plucking out individuals for attention. His banter is amongst the best, and genuinely funny, playing off the fact that bands do say the same things at every show.

It’s so easy to focus on the bouncy loon with the microphone that the rest of the band can get left in the shadows a little, and this is criminal as The Darkness are as tight as the drums that comparitive new boy Rufus is pounding on. Brother Dan is also a hell of a guitarist and engages with the crowd as well as someone can without the benefit of a mic, and nobody looks as dapper in a 70s pimp suit as Frankie Poullain.

With fireworks, bangers, flame pots, sparklies, hand-clapping, jumping, handstands, crowd-walking and more, this was an incredibly exhilarating set. And of course, we had “that” song towards the end. A handful of notes strummed on Justin’s guitar as he faked the intro and the crowd just lost their minds. If you have a song as good as “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” in your repertoire, then you just can’t fail. Watching it being performed live is rock madness perfection. It’s bombastic, it’s over the top, it’s silly, it’s catchy, it’s just perfect.

The Darkness were, apparently, here to “warm you all up for Black Stone Cherry”. Well, I think they may have broken some of the crowd with excessive warming. Not as excessive as the night before when they set fire to Liverpool, but still. Was the set as good as their slot at Sabaton Open Air 2018? I dunno. It’s close. But it was as good a hard rock performance as I’ve seen from any band. Ever.

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I was worried that the audience may thin out for Black Stone Cherry coming on, but I feared for nothing. While I know a couple of people who did leave early on (due to an early start for work the next day), the ground floor was filled for Kentucky’s finest returning to the first arena they ever played. Kicking off with “Me and Mary Jane”, they set the pace from the off with the three mobile members using the full stage space, and meandering up a pyramid to ensure that John Fred didn’t get lonely. Hell, Ben was off on one from the moment the curtains dropped and – as ever – didn’t stop for the entire show. I swear they wind him up with a big key just before the show starts and he just runs rampant until they box him up again.

Black Stone Cherry (c) Gary Cooper

BSC’s own newcomer, relatively speaking, bassist Steve Jewell makes his UK comeback after debuting here in 2021. He looks every inch the rock star with his infuriatingly long hair. Yes, bald me is jealous. Chris has changed over the years from someone who looked like your Geography teacher to a guy who could actually pass as the front man for a rock band – his hair’s gone along with the sweaters! His voice is is strong and gospel-y as it ever was, and like Hawkins earlier he is a natural at talking to the audience. The chat is fairly minimal tonight, though, with the band preferring to plough through fourteen raucous rock numbers (well, thirteen and a ballad).

I’ve seen Black Stone Cherry a bunch of times, and I think they’ve only ever left me feeling a little deflated the once (back in 2018 at the SEC). Tonight was without a doubt one of their best shows, but didn’t quite hit the feels in the way their split acoustic / electric show at the Glasgow Concert Hall did. This was a different animal, though, and tonight was definitely a full-on rock fest. The volume was cranked a little during “Again” for some reason which made things a tad mushy, but they settled down once the opening couple of songs had finished.

The set was mainly the classics, with a couple of newer numbers popped in. With a 75 minute slot, something had to give and there’s always going to be cries of “oh, but why didn’t they play…?” but there can be few complaints about the songs we did get. “Blind Man”, “Like I Roll”, “Lonely Train” and the awesome “Blame It On the Boom Boom” floored the crowd. Lights were raised along with voices for the superlative “Things My Father Said”.

Black Stone Cherry have definitely earned their status as an arena band, with a big show to go with their big songs and personalities.

My only quibble with tonight? I’d have swapped the bands over. This is no criticism of Black Stone Cherry, just that The Darkness had all the visual “bang” that leaves a crowd going “That’s it, done, brilliant… time to go home”. Their climax was climactic. However, I know this means that some of my friends would have missed most of the set as (mentioned earlier) they had an early curfew. Either way, I’m not complaining. Talented support and two superb co-headliners. Even the Hydro’s crappy plastic fishbowl aesthetics couldn’t take the shine off that.

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Photos by Gary Cooper

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