Seeing a band perform live that you don’t really have a prior musical relationship with is the best possible way to get a crash course on what they’re all about. In that instance, you’re experiencing everything for the first time, with virgin eyes and ears, without hauling around ingrained preferences or sentimentalities for what they should sound like or how they should be.
My experience with The Darkness, a British glam-rock band that formed in 1999, began and ended much like a lot of other people’s did, I’d imagine, with their 2003 hit single “I Believe In A Thing Called Love.” And I sincerely apologize in advance for anyone who reads this and inevitably has that song stuck in their head forat least a full day. Unless you’d be into that in which case, good. I’m glad that happened to you.
Here’s a quick tutorial on The Darkness so you go into this knowing more than I did. If you’d prefer to experience the review of their actual show, then just skip this paragraph (this is maybe the world’s first Choose Your Own Adventure show review?). The Darkness released their first album, Permission To Land, in 2003. It had a couple of major hits: “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and “Get Your Hands Off My Woman.” Almost immediately following the release of that album, which went quadruple platinum and won them a bunch of awards in the UK, the band went through a series of member swap-outs and, for lead singer Justin Hawkins, a bit of time spent in rehab for booze and coke addiction. Their current tour, which they’re calling the “BACK TO THE USSA” TOUR, is in support of their fourth, most recent album, last year’s Last Of Our Kind.
I’ve never personally been to a House of Blues, that I can readily recall, and found it to be a very comfortable, adult atmosphere with crisp air conditioning, clean bathrooms, and the pervasive smell of chicken tenders. I am now expert enough to say that seeing a show at House of Blues is like seeing a show at a restaurant your dad would take you to. Swapping out my usual show scenario of a dank room that smells like pee and taco farts for a comfy oasis of chill 40 to 50 year-olds taking their relaxed fit jeans out for a night on the town felt like vacationing in my own city.
Local support for this show was Donovan Wolfington, and they played a short set of gritty rock songs that got everyone revved up. While they were playing a bunch of people were trying REALLY hard to convince security to let them into the chained off VIP areas upstairs, and that was funny to watch. One guy kept trying because I think he wanted to impress his girlfriend, but he never made it in. RavenEye, a band from the UK that’s touring with The Darkness, followed Donovan Wolfington.
Once they started playing you could immediately tell that they love the holy hell out of being in a band. They were non-stop energy, sticking out their tongues and fluffing their feathers for the crowd. At one point the lead singer got on the bass player’s shoulders and they walked from one side of the stage to the other, playing like a curly-haired human centipede. One lady in the balcony area where we were standing got caught up in the moment and randomly, sort of daintily, fell completely over onto the floor for no apparent reason and spilled her cocktail. RavenEye closed with a snippet of “Purple Rain,” in honor of Prince, whose death had been announced that day.
It didn’t take long for the venue’s stagehands to clear off the opening band’s gear and start prepping for The Darkness. While watching them, I thought about the huge tour trucks I’d seen parked in front of the venue before we walked in and wondered what the hell they had in there. Lights, apparently, because the stage was stacked with them. It didn’t take much investigation to figure out that The Darkness put a lot of thought into showmanship. It can seem sometimes that the days of huge event concerts with lights and costumes and all that are long gone, having sort of fizzled out in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but The Darkness are still bringing it. Similar to Tenacious D, the band mixes humor, over the top male bravado, and theatrics to add a signature special something to their set. Initially it seemed to me that lead singer Justin Hawkins’ vocals were getting lost in the mix, but I think it just took him a song or two to hit his stride. After a few minutes he was cutting loose, strutting around in a shiny, striped leotard with no shirt on underneath, and throwing out guitar picks to the crowd who were just eating it all up. At one point, bass player Frankie Poullain made a big production out of hitting a cowbell with a drum stick and then threw the stick into the audience. I saw a woman catch it and then beamingly turn around to kiss her boyfriend, stick clutched firmly in her grasp.
We left before the end of their set to beat the rush to the door and missed out on them playing their big hit: “I Believe In A Thing Called Love,” which our photographer Adrienne said they brought the house down with. Sometimes bands known almost solely for one song will avoid playing it because they’re so sick of it, but not these guys. They’re pretty much 100% all about giving the crowd what they want, and giving it by the fistfuls.