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live music review: the darkness, thebarton theatre, 12 may 2012

The Darkness, a band that some may remember from mid-last decade for their hits ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ and ‘Love On The Rocks With No Ice’, or for lead man Justin Hawkins’ penchant for aerobics outfits and feather boas, broke up in 2006. Luckily, they have recently reformed to go on tour and will be releasing a new album in August. Depending on your feelings for glam metal, this is marvellous news, for there are really far too few bands out there who are able to pull off the glitz whilst still managing to rock out, hard.

The last leg of their tour saw them play at Adelaide’s Thebarton Theatre. Coming up first was support act Strangers from Sydney. A hard rock/metal band apparently no different from any other, it seemed a tad silly that they would be opening for a band whose ultimate delight is in taking those genres and inviting them out for a day at the races or a night at the opera. Despite a very slow start – and middle – and never quite managing to get the audience to forget the band that it was waiting for, they did, in the end endear themselves somewhat. Perhaps it was the tambourine that came out at one point, the guitarist that was clearly taking Harry Shearer’s character from Spinal Tap for inspiration, or moment when the front man Ben Britton took a photo of the audience for his mother after thanking us all profusely, several times, for having them. All in all, nothing special there, but when you so clearly love what you are doing, as Strangers do, sometimes it can be just enough.

When the lights finally went down, announcing the main act was soon to arrive, the audience went, well, ballistic. Then, in front of a backdrop with their name written in its signature font, the band came out on stage. Hawkins (not to be confused with his brother, Dan Hawkins, who is on lead guitar) had mostly shed the glitzy glamour of old, and had replaced it with one more grungy. Wearing a jacket and waist coast (that tantalisingly did not reach down to meet his low-riding jeans), covered in tattoos, and sporting a new, pointy beard, he had made the transformation to pirate/circus ringmaster. As for the bassist Frankie Poullain, not to be outdone by the Derek Smalls look-a-like from the previous band, he managed to give a fair impression of Jimi Hendrix, complete with afro and headscarf.

They opened with ‘Black Shuck’, followed by ‘One Way Ticket’, then after their new single, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’ (which is available for free download on the band’s website), Hawkins was down to just his jeans and was asking the audience if we liked the place being called “rAdelaide” (yes!). At this point, the knickers (that read “call me” in texta, no less), bras, banners and a long blonde wig (??) started being thrown on stage. One could only imagine that – minus the ever-luminescent presence of iPhones and Androids – this is what it would have been like when this kind of music was in its heyday.

The Darkness have been derided for being a ‘joke’ band, for choosing to emulate a genre of music that is now considered at least a little ridiculous. Though let’s look at it comparatively; The Brian Jonestown Massacre (another band coming on tour in Australia soon) for example is able to perfectly recreate the sound of ‘60s psychedelia and is applauded for it. Both glam rock and psychedelia were big in their days, only one would seem to have aged better to modern ears. In any case, joke or not, when they are putting on such an energetic, visually exciting (during ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman”, Hawkins jumps on the drum platform and does a headstand with his legs spreadeagled above him) and versatile show, what does it matter? This is the entertainment business after all, and The Darkness is nothing if not entertaining.

Finally, a modest yet well-deserved congratulations must go to the Sound Guy at the Thebby, who, in what can only be described as a fit of inspiration, chose to play the main track from Dirty Dancing, ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’, to finish the night. For yes, there was no doubt that everyone leaving the theatre had indeed had quite a time.

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