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Tuesday 19 December 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Darkness (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

The Darkness & Bad Nerves, Bristol Beacon, 14.12.23

Permission To Land Tour, Cardiff University 2003, Permission To Land 10th Anniversary Tour, Cardiff University 2013 and now Permission To Land 20th Anniversary Tour, Bristol Beacon 2023. Punctuated by various tours and festivals in the interim it's fair to say I like The Darkness. Around 2002/3 when I was really getting into music, their Spandex clad classic rock posturing grabbed my attention and I've followed the band, and their offshoots since. While they have released some brilliant records their seminal debut will always been the one that gets the most support so no wonder than that every venue on this 20th Anniversary Tour was sold out.

The closest to me was the recently reopened Bristol Beacon, gone under a name change due to statue being destroyed, they have had a tonnes of cash injected into the venue by the Bristol Music Trust to revamp the auditorium completely. This was my first official visit to the venue for a show since the revamp (I've actually been there for works during my day job). The revamp is excellent, bar a few seats so narrow you'd have to have no legs. The sound was crystal clear and the ability to tak all of the seats for full standing flroom was a revelation.

So to the bands and with a punk playlist before then Blitzkrieg Bop and White Riot kicked out louder and Essex boys Bad Nerves (8) took to the stage with a brand of energetic punk rock that was a mix of both bands. Stylistically from the depths of CBGB's, their frontman is affable and very sweary, encouraging the crowd to get louder and louder, most of the time to little response but lord loves a trier and by the end of the show he and the band who are kinetic in their energy and synchronised in their split jumps managed to get their attention and adulation. Even with the odd gap in the set with just a drum and whistling before they "1, 2, 3, 4" and off the went the rocket again. A set that flew past, it's not the sort of thing you'd expect before the headliner but variety be the spice of life and all that.

Up next though were a band who were a 10 year in the making overnight sensation, The Darkness (10), worked their asses off on the toilet scene in the latw 90's before releasing their debur albun Permission To Land in 2003, this catapulted then into the stratosphere and unfortunately completely destroyed the band. Much of it is shown in the new The Darkness documentary, but a brief aside from Justin Hawkins before Givin' Up has him give a brief apology for "fucking things up" all those years ago. However since then he and they have been redeemed, four or five albums since their reformation has lead them to be one of the UK's most loved bands, long past being a joke or a snigger what they are now is a veteran rock band who play music you can shout along to, performed with a cheeky wink and a knowing grin.

Playing all of the songs from Permission To Land, plus some of the B-Sides, THAT Christmas Song (the benefits of touring in December) and their cover of Street Spirit by Radiohead, The Darkness kept the punches rolling as Black Shuck and Get Your Hands Off My Woman, got us going though there was a brief pause for Justin to admonish certain C U Next Tuesday's (his words) in the crowd for filming. This came into Growing On Me which got the first big reaction of the night, everyone in the Beacon singing along.

Same can't be said of the bluesy The Best Of Me or Makin' Out, but personally I love the the B-Sides as it shows the different side of the band, especially the playing of Dan Hawkins, who takes more of the guitars as Justin revels in the frontman role of just singing, taking a guitar from tech Softy (who's the fifth member of the band) for his solo and lead parts. Back to the original album, explaining that people who film on their phones are the aforementioned C.U.N.T, it was Stuck In A Rut, into the massive ballad Love Is Only A Feeling, the walking bass of Frankie Poullain (still the best dressed man in rock n roll) leading the way with Rufus Tiger Taylor's powerhouse drum skill. Stuck In A Rut kept things going into another B-Side and Radiohead.

The crowd were completely enthralled with the set, the between song banter and asides are all pitches, you're never sure if Justin is being serious and the way that he invited huge call and responses during Friday Night was ingenious, keeping the audience on their toes as he was decked out in a bejewelled Les Paul and Christmas arrived, Softy on acoustic and added Sleigh Bells too. It was festive nonsense but enjoyed by all as a snippet of Immigrant Song brought us to the final song of the main set. The huge single; I Believe In A Thing Called Love, closed the main set, Justin giving us a synthwave interpretation just before.

Cheers as they left the stage, returning a short time after in some silk robes to swap instruments, Dan on drums, Frankie on acoustic guitar, Rufus on bass, Softy on keyboard, as they played I Love You 5 Times in the lounge jazz style, returning to their own instruments for a triumphant Love On The Rocks With No Ice to close out and evening of joyous, retro, camp as anything rock n roll. Filled with all the songs you'd want if you'd never seen The Darkness before, it was an anniversary of the album that made them and broke them initially, it's a tribute to the legacy of The Darkness, UK rock is lucky to have them.

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