Written Eric Sperrazza
When I first heard The Darkness, it was towards the end of 2003 with their big single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” from their debut LP, Permission to Land. I felt such a wave of influence from heavy metal to glam to good old-fashioned barroom rock. I was excited about their very existence! Anyone who would listen would go on and on incessantly about them. So, when they seemingly vanished off the radar of relevance, folks were quick to tell me just how wrong I was about how great The Darkness should have been.
So what happened to the band who debuted with an album that went quadruple platinum with multiple singles and a holiday song in the United Kingdom, a searing-hot single that climbed the charts in the United States, and a reputation for an insanely good live show?
Justin Hawkins (lead vocalist/guitar), who famously commanded the stage like a ringleader, a powerful singer, brilliant entertainer, guitar savant & overall tour guide through the experience that is The Darkness did what many could not do… he got off the ride and got help with a substance abuse problem. Hawkins checked himself into a rehabilitation course, sacrificing the success of their second album, One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back, only seeing gold status before slipping into obscurity. The original bassist, Frankie Poullain, would leave the band shortly thereafter. Four more albums would be released between 2012 and 2019, however, none would see the success of Permission to Land and would prompt the departure of the original drummer, Ed Graham.
In 2021, The Darkness released a brand new album called Motorheart and announced an extensive tour with none other than Justin Hawkins, brother Dan Hawkins (lead guitar/vocals), Rufus Tiger Taylor (drums/vocals), and Frankie Poullain, returning to reintroduce the (mostly) original band back to the world. The Motorheart Tour was slated to stop at Brooklyn Bowl in Philadelphia and there I would go to see what the world might have missed, twenty years prior.
The Brooklyn Bowl has a great setup with bowling lanes and a bar on the first floor and on the second floor, you find a bar, a stage, and a VIP Crow’s Nest of sorts with more bowling lanes and a rail over the left side of the stage and subsequent crowds; it’s a really fun place to see an intimate show with friends, in my humble opinion.
I settled in and first up was The Dead Deads. From the moment they hit the stage, to the last lingering note before they exit behind the curtain (and, I feel that description is still lacking what a truly great vibe they emanate), this trio of ladies is an absolute onslaught of rock galloping straight into your soul.
As I sat and thoroughly banged my head through their set, I felt all the Joan Jetts, Donita Sparks, and the Lzzy Hales that came before them. Meta (vocals/guitar), Daisy (bass), and McQueen (drums) commanded every single person’s attention with punk-metal flair. More importantly, they absolutely looked like they were having fun doing it.
From their opener, “Thinkers & Preyers,” to songs like “Ghosts,” and “Nope,” and even their homage to Pink Floyd‘s “In The Flesh,” I was blown clear out of the water. So much so that I ran back to get contact information from their management so as to put a more focused microscope on them, as a whole, down the line in this very magazine. That’s right, it took eight live songs and you can now count me among The Dead Deads Dead Corps Fan Club!
After a brief reprieve from all the savage energy The Dead Deads left in the air, The Darkness finally hit the stage. As the bass began pulsating with the sounds of bagpipes curling around the shadowy stage, without warning, an explosion of lights revealed the band and their opener, “Welcome Tae Glasgae” from the new Motorheart LP. There, Dan Hawkins wearing his trusty Thin Lizzy shirt, Poullain sporting his finest Phil Lynott cosplay, Taylor menacingly lurking behind the drum kit, and Justin Hawkins, looking like he was just born to be a Rock God, all on stage and delivering the force of an Arena Rock Show in a boutique venue, to the delight of a sea of fans.
Justin Hawkins, through multiple costume changes, belted out his time-honored falsetto to a potpourri of songs, not just from the new Motorheart record, but from other LPs that newer fans may not have heard previously. From “One Way Ticket” off of One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back to “Barbarian” from The Last of Our Kind, The Darkness put on a venerable showcase of just how versatile, talented, and entertaining they have been, all the while. I even walked away with a new favorite song of theirs that has been in constant rotation, since that night – “Heart Explodes” from the Easter is Canceled album. Of course, the band encored with their hit, “I Believe In a Thing Called Love,” igniting an eruption of the crowd.
It wasn’t just the perfect blend of inspirations like Queen, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Sweet, The New York Dolls, and ACDC that rang through; during this powderkeg of rock that seemingly went off beside bowling lanes, but the interaction Justin Hawkins had with the crowd. His antics on stage, his humor, and his kindness to some of the younger fans in the audience made this show what it was. It was as if Freddie Mercury and Russell Brand merged for one night to give you shades of everything you ever loved about rock and roll.
As the concert ended, I made my way to my car, I was both amazed and entertained, but also embarrassed. I was embarrassed because I had found a band in 2003 that wets the proverbial rock whistle on every level and I let them slip by me as if they had broken up after their debut. Had the momentum shifted in the public eye by 2005? Yes. But since when do we, as music lovers, care what the Billboard Top 40 says? I missed out on almost 20 years of great songs and potentially great memories because I was careless with a gift; the gift of great rock music that gets harder to find with each passing day. I was frivolous and fair weather with this band. The good news is, just as the majority of the original Darkness is on a world tour to prove the world wrong, getting humble redemption along the way from the stigma of ‘One Hit Wonder,’ I can offer my apologies to the Gods of Rock and ensure that the vibe of this band stays relevant with me, going forward.
As for the naysayers of The Darkness in my life, circa 2005? Allow me to put them all on notice – The Darkness served you all up a hearty spoonful of comeuppance and I am here for it!
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