Ash/The Darkness: Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle

The Darkness rolled into Newcastle as part of their UK tour. Running out of hairspray: Rahul Shrivastava

WHEN someone asked me to review The Darkness at the Newcastle Arena, my initial thoughts were overrun with musical snobbery! “The Darkness?”, I sneered to my colleagues, “Uriah Heep did that thing 30 years ago, and did it better.”

There has been a lot of discussion as to whether The Darkness are a serious band, or if they are having a joke at the fans expense, but driving to the gig, and listening to my muddy-sounding cassette of Heep’s 1972 classic, Demons And Wizards, I was reminded that even The Heep probably didn’t take their music too seriously!

Strangely compelling

Due to the massive car-park queues, I arrived at the venue just in time to see the opening act finishing off their set. Do Me Bad Things were the band, and unfortunately I missed the performance of their new single, the promising ‘Time for Deliverance’.

What I did witness however, was an extremely camp outfit that looked like a cross between The Scissor Sisters and Junior Senior, but with the riffs of Judas Priest. It felt wrong to be enjoying this freak show, but it was strangely compelling.

Ash took to the stage next, and judging by the excellent reception they got, they had brought a lot of their own fans with them to this gig. Tim Wheeler’s introduction was to set alight his Flying V guitar, and hold it aloft, much to the delight of the crowd.

Full of energy

The band opened with ‘Meltdown’, the title track from their new album. Their performance was tight, if lacking a bit in charisma, and their songs were full of energy. The crowd were buzzing. The hit single, ‘Shining Light’, probably got the biggest cheer, though the melodic and stirring ballad, ‘Starcrossed’, was the highlight.

When Wheeler sang, “It’s true, you know that I’d die for you,” he sounded like he meant it. Charlotte Hatherley’s understated backing vocals provided a sweet finish to the track.

After a half-hour break, it was time for The Darkness. The sense of anticipation amongst the packed crowd was high, and the prolonged dimming of the lights only served to increase the level of excitement.

Then The Darkness exploded on to the stage! Justin Hawkins, dressed like an unused extra from Pirates of the Caribbean, slotted seamlessly into his role as a rock ‘n’ roll frontman.

Begging for more

In today’s music scene, Hawkins is something of a rarity. He has the ability to command his audience, work them up into a frenzy, have them begging for more. His baiting of the crowd, and telling them they were not as loud as Glasgow the night before, had them screaming even harder, making as much noise as they could muster.

Hawkins knew he had control, and he loved it. He got the sell-out crowd jumping up and down in unison to “mimic the rhythm of sex”, and also got the whole arena to shout rude words at the top of their lungs. Sure, it was brainless, but it was also highly entertaining.

Almost every hard-rock cliché was thrown into the mix. There were stunning pyrotechnics, extended guitar solos, screaming vocals, and plenty of tight spandex. The only thing missing was a drum solo.

Several new songs were mixed in with the current material from the Permission To Land album. ‘Friday Night’ had a great party vibe to it, while ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ was performed with vigour and enthusiasm.

Musically, the band are not the most accomplished, but when you see Justin playing one of his guitar solos, with a huge grin on his face and spandex stretched tight around his scrawny body, you know that music is not the primary factor in this band.

Theatrical entertainment

This is theatrical entertainment, pure and simple. This was perhaps summed up best when Justin rode on the back of a large, model snow tiger and was elevated above the heads of his adoring fans, whilst playing one of his hilarious guitar solos.

The falsetto vocals are highly overused, which is a shame, because you do hear glimpses of a decent voice under all that screaming exterior that you wish could be let loose on occasions. This is no more evident on a song like ‘Stuck In A Rut’, or on one of the new songs (which Justin failed to name) that started off at mid-tempo, but had the chorus ruined by the incessant screaming.

‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ was a hoot however, and ‘Love On The Rocks With No Ice’ is a rock anthem for the modern era. When the band find their niche like this, they are a force to be reckoned with. The gig finished with their festive sing-along, ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’, that saw several roadies dressed like Santa Claus erect two large Christmas trees on stage. 

By the end of the gig, I had certainly warmed to the band. What they did prove last night, is that music does not have to be serious all the time. Uriah Heep knew it 30 years ago, and The Darkness reaffirmed that belief right here at the arena. This was good time rock ‘n’ roll, and the band delivered on every front!

© Rahul Shrivastava, 30 November 2004

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