English glam rockers The Darkness came to Manchester Academy having just returned from Europe, touring the release of their latest album Pinewood Smiles. The band seem to have a new drummer more often than Spinal Tap: this time they line up with Rufus Taylor, son of Queen drummer Roger, on the kits, alongside the longstanding Hawkins brothers and Frankie Poullain on bass. The crowd arrived in great number and, after an opening set from Nashville four-piece Blackfoot Gypsies, with great expectancy.
Entering the stage, their image is what’s most striking. There are few people in the world more valiantly committed to the great cause of wearing seventies skin tight lycra at all times than Justin Hawkins. Even if the fabric in this case renders a look more akin to Borat’s mankini than Freddie Mercury’s attire, it screams exactly the kind of look The Darkness are after. Over the top, glam rock, hair metal; falsetto screams, insane guitar solos, and more than questionable facial hair. It’s spot on.
Although The Darkness were here following an album release, the set-list generally stuck to the well-loved classics of their own particular genre. Despite playing all the crowd pleasers however, the atmosphere among the crowd did not seem one of great excitement. This was puzzling, as the performance itself was great. Onstage was exactly what any fan would come to see The Darkness to expect: meaty, old school riffs and high pitch, blaring vocals. Hawkins went full on with the crowd work between songs, funny as always but perhaps rather hit and miss, occasionally going on a little long.
But rather than spoken jokes, it’s the wit of their lyrics that really stands out. ‘One Way Ticket’ featured a glorious performance of the revered cowbell, which will always be in equal measures comical and a serious tune, and that was certainly lived up to here. Closing the show was ‘Growing On Me’ — a song that could be interpreted as being about about a love obsession as easily as it could an STD diagnosis. It’s a particularly strong example of an overarching theme for the band — hilarious lyricism over monstrous guitar work.
Even though more material from the new release could have been included, the set-list comprised of a good mix of styles new and old. Not only that, but the audience, who were by this point a little more into it, were treated to an extra long encore. ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’ was an obvious yet always brilliant choice, Dawkins having changed to gold spandex now, equipped with a glittery guitar. And last of all, the very pique of the show: ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’.
But you don’t get it that easily. After teasing the crowd throughout, the band finally launched into… an extremely downbeat, laid back swing performance of their greatest hit. The sheer anticlimax to it all was brilliant: I’ve rarer heard more laughs at stand-up comedy shows. And of course, it made it all the more satisfying when they eventually did play the song in its fullness, which remains an absolute classic. They’ve been going a good while now — but The Darkness are as brilliant as ever.
Manchester Academy, 24th November 2017