It is almost a sin amongst the heavy metal community to say that you like The Darkness. Somehow, they are a “marmite” band people either love or hate. Maybe that is due to the campness of Justin Hawkins, his falsetto voice, the fact that they are hugely commercially successful (something that immediately seems to mean that they have “sold out”), or all of the above. Personally, I love them, so I headed out to chart the last night of their “Tour de Prance” tour.
It can’t be easy opening for a band like The Darkness, but Nashville band Blackfoot Gypsies are musically diverse enough to give it a bloody good shot! Their music is described as Rock ‘n’ Roll/Blues/Garage/American, but that misses out Country, Delta, and even Zydeco, in a sound that tonight’s audience loved. Matthew Paige plays a mean slide guitar and provides the vocals, drummer Zack Murphy hits the drums, Dylan Whitlow the bass, and off in the shadows, Ollie Dogg blows a down ‘n’ dirty harmonica. I have no idea what the setlist was, but every song was filled with energy and musical ability. Blackfoot Gypsies were great, we all agreed!
Blasting into “Open Fire” Justin Hawkins bounds on stage in a green and blue catsuit, slashed to the waist, and the crowd need no encouragement to give their all. We are soon into “Love is Only a Feeling”, and it’s clear his voice is sensational, especially considering this is the last night of a long tour. I love how much he enjoys himself on stage. There is a constant twinkle in his eye, where you are not sure what he might do next! “Southern Trains” (off their latest album) starts with a seriously rocking guitar, but the lyrics are hilarious. Who else would write a song about a failing railway company? Normally that would be it for us photographers and we would leave the pit, but Hawkins stops proceedings and invites us all back for one more song, “Black Shuck”, shaking our hands as we file back (a genuinely lovely touch) and promising to give us lots of “prancing”. He ends the song with a huge split leap that had us all comparing shots as we headed back to the sidelines.
The tunes fly past quickly; “One Way Ticket”, “Givin’ Up”, All The Pretty Girls”, and “Barbarian” providing meaty rock ‘n’ roll delights. The Darkness are in fine form. Dan trades licks with Justin, or takes over the lead full time when a prance brews. Frankie Poullain, in the most gloriously 70s stage gear, is laid back and full of smiles, and drummer Rufus Taylor drives the energy along. Their image contributes a lot to their fame, but there is massive substance underpinning the look.
“Friday Night” (One of my favourite tracks), “Makin’ Out” (with great guitar intro), “Every Inch Of You”, and “Solid Gold” whiz by, before Justin teases the crowd with the information that there have now been three great, stand out gigs on the tour; Birmingham, Brighton and… (the crowd bay for Bristol, and with a grin he drops the bombshell)… Stoke!
The crowd boo and hiss, and he tells them they still have time. After all, when the boys get home, they don’t really want to be reminiscing and thinking “Well, we will always have Stoke!” Having wound them up to fever pitch, the band launch into easily the best part of the set as we are treated to three songs from “Permission To Land”. “Stuck In A Rut” has security trying to calm the moshing and shoulder sitting that breaks out as Hawkins sings the insanely high-pitched chorus perfectly. He then warns people to do what they are told by Security (whilst miming that they do nothing of the sort) and asks whether “swimming” is allowed in the hall; then launches himself into the crowd to surf towards the seating at the back. Two more songs off the first album follow, and the crowd are really making a bid for that top 3 placing. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” sees Hawkins perform a head stand on the drum riser, and “Growing On Me” closes the set with even the “muppets in the royal box” head banging and dancing for all they are worth.
We have the pleasure of three encores: “Japanese Prisoner Of Love”, with it’s old school rock intro and guitar harmonies, then it all gets a bit silly for the festive “Christmas Time”, rounding off the show (and the tour) with, what else but, a belting redition of “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” to the never-flagging Bristolians.
Did Bristol make it into the top 3? I have no idea, but as nights of cracking Rock ‘n’ Roll go, The Darkness ranked up there for me. Justin Hawkins went up massively in my estimation for his gesture towards the photographers for an extra song in the pit, when other bands seem to see us as a necessary evil at times.
My thanks to you, Sir!
Review and images: Rob Wilkins