Darkness: The Milk’s Gone Good

Get your hands off of my womanThe Darkness, The Wildhearts at Clutch Cargo’s

Pontiac, Michigan, March 28, 2004

Customs frowned upon the fiberglass UFO, and the towering hydraulic phalluses had to be tucked away in a south London storeroom. Domestic tour support didn’t cover the laserbeam generator, nor did it allow for the hovering obelisk, and officials understandably balked at plans for flash pots and flaming tongues. No, The Darkness gig at Pontiac’s Clutch Cargo’s wasn’t couched in the cavernous ridiculosity of, say, their recent BRIT awards appearance. But the opening act’s drummer did take his shirt off, and the Marshalls and Mesa Boogies were big and square and turned up really loud, and at least one Les Paul was adorned with the Union Jack. In other words, it was a fun, high voltage rock show with more power chords than pomp and less hype than Steven Seagal’s comeback campaign. Oh, and catsuits. Customs allowed the catsuits.

The epicenter of and brains behind Darkness opener, The Wildhearts, is a gentleman named Ginger. He looks like what would happen if Adrien Brody swallowed Lemmy and grew in dreads; he’s the picture of rock and roll decadence. Which is fitting, as The Wildhearts’ music is a hardliner speedball of Motörhead and melody, happily mixing hard rock with three part harmony. Les Paul slung low and flanked by tattooed badasses, Ginger worked the sellout crowd into a lather within first few minutes of the Wildhearts’ set. The drummer knew it was on – his shirt disappeared in the crash of an extra large ride cymbal. More energizing even than the Wildhearts’ level-burying music was their joy at playing it. After slogging around their native UK for ten-plus years, they finally have solid US distribution (through Gearhead, for Riff After Riff) and their first real opportunity to rock American rooms. The startlingly polite Ginger threw out compliments to Detroit’s musical legacy and saluted profusely in between trading weedly weedly solos with his swarthy bandmate. His scallywag gallantry was tremendously endearing, his heavy music a right proper beginning to an evening of unabashed rock swagger and old-fashioned showmanship.

While the Wildhearts’ furious set certainly held the crowd’s attention, it was difficult not to notice the shroud looming at their backs. Pointed and swooped like a half-collapsed circus tent, it was definitely covering up some sort of Darkness craziness. Ginger and the Wildhearts vacated the stage in a flurry of fabulous stage moves ganked from Townshend, Axl, Rotten, and Richards, but as an army of roadies swarmed toward the shroud, a pristine white curtain dropped from the ceiling, obscuring the preparation on stage. It didn’t stop the speculation, first concerning the bizarre peach fuzz growing on the lip of Guy Wearing Tonight’s Tour Shirt standing nearby, but second about the Darkness stage setup. “Maybe they’ll have a catwalk,” remarked my pal Klein, eying up a full-figured waitress and sipping a whiskey. “I picture one of those spinning drum kits, a la Tommy Lee,” remarked another pal. Tonight’s Tour Shirt was not consulted. What would it be? What’s he building in there?

When permission to land was given and the crowd thoroughly amped by a fife and bagpipe vamp, a beam illuminated on the curtain a shadow of enormous proportion. But the percussion came in, the figure struck a power chord, and the curtain dropped to reveal…four British guys of decidedly normal height. Where was the 90-foot wicker man, the miniature Stonehenge ringed by dwarven jesters? Shit, where the birthing cocoons? The shroud had disappeared to reveal a muscular backline of heads and amps, as well as a drum kit defined not by its preposterous amount of cymbals or a goofy gong, but deep toms and a howitzer of a kick drum. Hardworking, not self-indulgent. Guitarist Dan Hawkins wore a Thin Lizzy shirt, to mention just one of the late ’70s groups The Darkness’ ballsy rhythm section references; for his part, frontman Justin Hawkins showed off the first catsuit of the evening. Launching into “Black Shuck,” Hawkins’ outrageous flutter of a voice elicited plenty of laughter. But it wasn’t spiteful, or hooting at spectacle like dense Americans tend to do. It was an involuntary reaction of tingling happiness, like the first time you heard Ronnie James Dio and “Rainbow in the Dark.” Rock symbols were thrown into the air, “Black Shuck!” was shouted back to the band, Hawkins did his Jagger preen, and the bassist’s headband was cool.

The Darnkess has no use for continuity. Hawkins chatted sociably with the audience between each song, or would spend a few minutes just cranking out crackling non sequitur riffs on one of his numerous Les Pauls. These funny little moments helped root out the thorny clusters of hype that seemingly have to qualify any conversation about the band. “We’re JUST a band,” they seemed to be saying, “here to have fun and rock.” It brought to mind the English tradition of blue collar pub rock, especially since live, it’s the influence of AC/DC that becomes most apparent in The Darkness’ sound. “Givin’ Up,” “Get Your Hands off My Woman,” and an absolutely explosive “Love on the Rocks With No Ice” all strutted with a satisfying crunch, while “Love Is Only a Feeling” was a tear-welling masterwork of arena rock balladry. At its blue-lit and lighter-flicked end, nothing would have been better than a throaty cover of the Head East classic “Since You’ve Been Gone,” but a revved up rendition of “Growing on Me” stood in quite nicely.

By this point, Hawkins’ catsuit costume changes had progressed from leather-in-all-the-wrong-places and through sequins-and-lion’s-mane, ultimately settling on a pink and white candystripe number that accentuated his scrawniness. He showed it off, too. In another classic move, the hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was reserved until set’s close. Hawkins disappeared again for its instrumental overture, only to emerge in the center of the club, soloing wildly from the shoulders of roadies. Circling his way back to the stage, Hawkins led the club in the inevitable hand claps in the air breakdown before ending the night with what seemed like its hundredth Big Finish drum fill. Naturally, it was just as satisfying as the first.

The Darkness, bitch. Let’s believe in a thing called rock.


Be sure to check out Glorious Noise’s preview of the Darkness album, Permission to Land from back in October: Crotch Rock It.

15 thoughts on “Darkness: The Milk’s Gone Good”

  1. Damn, bro, sounds like you caught a CONCERT!! Not a bunch of nancy boys smiling for the camera while they go through the motions, you saw a BAND!! And the bad news for me is that I now have a new “gotta-have” disc… damn.

    Word up to JTL for a wicked review.

  2. i’ll take my chances with franz ferdidand as my rock saviours of ’04. they rip it up on their new cd, no doubt about that. darkness are a little too into the gimmicks for my taste. i couldnt even stand watching them hosting subterrenean the other day.

  3. How and why would anyone comment/compare a Darkness show with deciding to see/listen to Franz Ferdinand. These are totally separate issues, with totally different entertainment qualities. Obviously one might give a bit more legitimacy to such a pop act as F.F., and I like them too, but is this just an attempt to show how much “indie” pop cred they have, rather than accepting the fact that it was a fun show? Yes, I think everyone agrees that the idea as a whole is gimmicky?, but at the same time when watching/listening to it live, IT WAS AWESOME. Just a good old fashion good time. Laughing, pounding a foot, whatever.. I can be as big of a critic as anyone, but can it not just be about fun sometimes???

    Oh, and I like bands like Pavement, butterglory, gbv, versus…..



  4. Agreed, saw the show at Irving Plaza in NY when they first came to US to test tour, i have to say it was one of the funest show i’ve been too, it was like seeing AC/DC dressed as NEW YORK DOLLS with Queen’s voice. Good to see that rock is coming back in a way at least it wasn’t another emo poser punk farts up there screaming about how their dad touched them at night, go get f**ked…

  5. Nice to see the rest of the world is catching up with FF (they’re from my backyard) but really y’all are missing the point. Right now you’ve got one of the best british bands- maybe the best- touring your fine country. And it ain’t the Darkness.

    Treat yourself to a copy of the Wildhearts Best Of if you can find it, or better yet, download something… Their tracks Sky Babies, or I Wanna Go Where The People Go, would be a good place to start.

    OK, sales job over… But they’re just in another league as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen them maybe a dozen times over the last decade, but there’s never been a better time to see the Wildhearts than right now.

  6. I believe people’s issue with The Darkness, much like my own, is simply the way they go about doing what they do. They are a talented group of musicians, and the singers voice is memorable if only for it’s nostalgic qualities. However, in the end I beleive it boils down to just that; nostalgia! They are presenting this idea of the rock image and playing on the hindsight and second hand memories we all have of a time when that kind of rock was king. I simply say there is a reason that music fell out of the publics favor when it did; because for all it’s thrashing and gnashing good times, I at least find it empty. People say rock is dead, and they are really close to being right, because rock has lost it’s relavance in this time. It’s my belief that when we embrace blatant throwback material like this, no matter how much fun it is we set ourselves in the rock community back a step and perpetrate the theory that we are all just a bunch of screaming, beer swilling pigs looking to get laid. Now I don’t stand by the posing pretty boys of Nu-metal or a lot of emo either, but we seem to be missing a fundamental sense of sincerity that The Darkness, in their attempt to capture the whisping entrails of Queen and Quiet Riot, aren’t even attempting to convey. Like em if you like em, I have no beef with that. However let’s not hold them upon high and praise the second coming of rock in their names.

  7. As much as I’d like to believe that rock and roll is about growth, it’s about fun. “Fun” is a completely valid dimension along which to judge rock and roll groups. Rock and roll in the 60s, 70s, and 80s used to be a lot more fun. We’re not “screaming, beer swilling pigs looking to get laid”. That doesn’t encapsulate anyone’s personality. But for a night, we’re letting it out and having some fun. No one wants that lifestyle every night. But it’s wonderful when bands like the Darkness come to town and throw down the rock in the old tradition. It’s sort of like old bluegrass bands coming around and playing the old time fiddle music. Partying like our parents did- that to me, IS the second coming of rock. If fucking Radiohead is the second coming of rock, send me back to the womb! My folks were right. It’s about having fun.

  8. Fuck the Darkness!

    They wont be around in 5 years time.

    Where as, the WILDHEARTS have been going strong for well over 10 years and seem to get better and better with age. These guys have been working their asses off bringing us some of the greatest rock tunes of all time and i think its time somebody gave them a break and signed them up to a 50 million dollar, 10 album contract…then we can all be happy in the knowledge that the wildhearts will be giving us tunes that never leave our heads for years to come!


  9. I think both bands are amazing, each in their own right.

    The Wildhearts are more of a super band that has already secured its place in rock history. We’ll have to see about The Darkness, but so far they are doing a good job at it.

    However, live, The Wildhearts kick everybody’s asses…

  10. Wow wow wow! Slow down people… Everything rocks in its own sweet way. Learn to love what you hear for its good points. See the complexety and appreciate the quality… Also except that if everyone liked the same kinda music, the world would be a very boring place, don’t you think?

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