Shepherds Bush Empire June 8, 2011
It’s amazing how just one tiny thing is sometimes all it takes to stop time and strip the years away. In tonight’s case it’s a simple catchphrase: “Gimme a D! Gimme an ‘Arkness!”
It’s hard to believe that rock’s showiest showmen are back on the boards – and somehow even harder to believe that they’ve ever been away. But it’s true. After an acrimonious split, sordid tales of drug and booze excess, semi-good splinter bands and a whole mess of legal wrangles (and lots of other fine stuff) the Hawkins Bros have reunited with their rhythm section compadres Ed and Frankie to bring rock back to the world via a handful of summer gigs and a forthcoming new album.
It really does seem like they’ve never been away. Justin Hawkins’ voice is clearly still a natural phenomenon from the moment ‘Black Shuck’ opens proceedings with its ancient English folk warning tale of dogs that ‘don’t give a fuck’, and the onstage antics – running on the spot, swaying-arm stuff, noodling at the barrier precipice, high-fiving brother Dan midway through a particularly memorable guitar solo – are all packed into the hour of rock to remind us why we all loved The Darkness in the first place.
They sound, play and look as fine as they did in 2003. OK, so Justin might have grown a particularly Edwardian moustache since we last saw him, and he might have come onstage wearing stripey trousers and a t-shirt, but it’s essentially the same behemoth that we’re welcoming back here. But don’t be fooled into thinking the trousers and face fungus are a sign of new maturity. Three or four songs into the set, he emerges from a break sprayed into a grey and black-striped catsuit complete with leather codpiece and what can only be described as a leather fan-horses-tail thing.
Towering bass player Frankie looks exactly like he has done on his regular walks to his local East London swimming pool for the last five years: it’s just a handy coincidence that his exercise togs have always been leather trousers, a bandana and a shirt undone to the waist.
A handful of new songs and a steaming mound of massive hits – from ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ to ‘Givin’ Up’; from ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ to ‘Growing On Me’; this is classic stuff – both then and now.
A lot has happened in the few years that The Darkness have been away but, unlike some other heritage re-rockers, the boys have the chops and threads and nous to just jump back in and reel in the years. It’s clear it was a ‘pause’ button that was pressed all those years ago – not a ‘stop’ or ‘self-destruct’.
As the final notes of ‘Love On The Rocks (With No Ice)’ ring out, and Justin has done his famous circuit of the audience, giant glitter canons on either side of the stage fire confetti into the air. The paper strands catch on the ceiling lights and stay there, reluctant to fall.
That’s just like our boys, really. They’re back and they’re still on rocking good form. They like each other again – and we like them. Wake up! It’s time to get that copy of ‘Permission To Land’ back from the charity shop and rock out. Welcome back, T’Actual Darkness!