When The Darkness first arrived on Australian shores, they ended up being the talk of the 2004 Big Day Out; a sweaty flurry of hair and jumpsuits. It says a lot about the impression they left at the time — not to mention the album they were riding on the back of, 2003’s Permission to Land — that they’re still able to draw a crowd after all this time.
There’s a fervency and electricity in the air that rides high as they make their way out on stage, and it’s impressive — as well as, at least initially, fairly entertaining.
Growing on Me back-to-back with Black Shuck fires up singing voices and clenched, pumping fists. Not long after, a dozen super-fans raise up cowbells to play along with One Way Ticket and end up on-stage to jam with the band, Gene Frenkle style. There’s even a random dude in a luchador mask that arrives, plays mandolin and promptly vanishes. Twice.
At the centre is Justin Hawkins, who hits all of the nard-clenching high-notes like they’re nothing and commands the crowd with all the confidence of an arena star. The guitars pierce through the speakers and promptly wail, while new drummer Rufus Taylor rips through his kit as if he’s been a part of the fold the entire time.
We reach the pinnacle — the moment everyone has been waiting for — and the unmistakable riff of I Believe in a Thing Called Love rings out. People lose their minds as if it’s 2004 all over again. It makes any minor faults of the main set — a sloppy new song, some atrocity called English Country Garden — disappear in a puff of smoke (or dry ice, given it’s a big rock show).
It’s here that the mood begins to sour, as the encore threatens to completely undo any goodwill one has built up toward the band in their time on stage.
First up, bassist Frankie Poullain takes up lead vocals on a slow, tepid ballad entitled Open Fire, while Hawkins moves over to bass. It’s awkward, embarrassing and uncomfortable. The hair balladry keeps up into what is, at first, unrecognisable.
Around the halfway point, when horror sets in and it’s realised they are inexplicably covering Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out), the second strike is duly noted. The third comes with Love on the Rocks with No Ice. Sure, it’s from the aforementioned Permission to Land — which is the only record anyone really cares about — but it’s at least 100 years long on the album and winds up going for about 1000 years live.
The way things end up at this show is a damn shame. Sure, they’re a guilty pleasure and a bit of fun on the whims of nostalgia. When left to their own devices at a headlining show, however, those not tied to The Darkness’ every whim by a glittery headband will be washed out into a sea of utter bullshit.
Gallery: The Darkness, APES – Enmore Theatre, Sydney 13.11.15 / Photos: Annette Geneva