The Darkness: Barbarism in the USA

A few days ago The Struts triumphed in San Diego. How will The Darkness - their spiritual forbears - fare at the same venue?

Justin Hawkins
(Image: © Joe Daly)

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When visiting bands play San Diego, the smart money on how long it will take a singer to make an Anchorman reference is generally placed at the 20 minute mark. Tonight’s openers, Raven Eye, last a full thirty minutes before singer/guitarist Oli Brown finally drops “a whale’s vagina” (the film’s nickname for the city) on the house.

The hard-hitting Milton Keynes three-piece can certainly be forgiven for indulging in this weathered rite of passage and they deliver a thunderous set of the kind of feet-planted, head-bobbing groove-rock that has paid Pearl Jam’s cable bills for twenty-five years. Although the mid-tempo alt-rock bluster feels a bit dated, Raven Eye more than compensate with cartwheeling, high energy theatrics including wandering into the crowd and bassist Aaron Spiers carting Brown around on his shoulders a-la Bon and Angus.

Tonight is only the third stop on The Darkness’ cross-country Back In The USSA tour — a month-long campaign in support of 2015’s Last Of Our Kind. With a capacity just over 1000, we’re surprised to find tonight’s venue not quite three-quarters full, especially as The Struts — those self-styled Darkness disciples from Derby — sold out this very room on Wednesday. Scanning the audience, the reason becomes apparent: The Darkness have attracted a crowd who appear almost entirely north of their mid-thirties and with Monday morning’s commute less than 12 hours away, it seems that the rest of their following are at home slapping nappies on the kids or blissfully snoring in front of the telly.

It’s their loss, because from the first blaze of Dan Hawkins’ Les Paul it’s clear the Darkness will be taking zero prisoners. He bashes through the intro to Barbarian so ferociously and so loudly that our hair literally blows back, and when his older brother Justin takes the stage in a powder-blue silk suit, the house loses its collective mind. Smog machines are pumping, the walls tremble with the thud of Frankie Poullain’s elasticky bass and the stage is lined with nothing but Marshall stacks and lighting rigs. With the three musicians out front slinging their axes, throwing shapes and mugging to the crowd, and drummer Rufus Taylor hitting the toms like they owe him money, it’s clear that we’re in for a proper rock show tonight.

“There’s always an air of prestige around a House of Blues show,” Justin says, inspiring a feverish response. Justin remains one of the best frontmen to emerge from the Noughties, and his charisma shines brightly through his weirdly joyful stage moves and self-deprecating between-song banter. In the middle of Givin’ Up, he shares that he and Dan were jogging along the San Diego bay this morning when a guy with a thick New York accent (his cartoonish imitation is spit-take funny), stopped them and asked if they were going to see Generation Axe tonight — that Steve Vai/Zakk Wylde/Yngwie Malmsteen shredder showcase. “Now we know where all the people are tonight,” he deadpans before declaring, “Fuck those guys!” with faux bravado, eventually diving back into the song.

The band pile through one chest-pounding anthem after another, including Mudslide, One Way Ticket To Hell And Back, Concrete and a sleazy, fist-pumping version of Every Inch Of You. They devote over half of the seventeen-song set to their multiplatinum debut Permission To Land, ending with three of that album’s riffiest belters, Get your Hands Off Of My Woman, Stuck In A Rut and I Believe In A Thing Called Love. For encores they play Open Fire from Last Of Our Kind, and Love On The Rocks With No Ice. We’ve just spent nearly two hours dancing, sweating, bouncing around and shouting out chorus after bloody chorus until our voices crackles in hoarse submission. If the band are locked in this tightly on just the third night of the campaign, the rest of this glammy, roof-destroying, high-voltage blowout promises to be one for the ages.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.