For some reason I cannot fathom, The Darkness has not yet achieved massive success here in the U.S. They are huge in their native U.K., but something must’ve got lost in the translation, despite our common language. Is it because their songs deal with partying, women, and having fun instead of the emo angst that’s so popular here? Or is it due to their flamboyant stage persona, which hearkens back to 1970’s glam rock and 80’s hair metal? Or maybe it’s Justin Hawkins’ impossibly high-pitched voice, which admittedly takes a few minutes to get used to, yet is still infinitely better than the dime-a-dozen metalcore screamers who pass themselves off as vocalists. The Darkness didn’t do their popularity any favors by breaking up for about half a decade, not long after the release of their sophomore album, 'One Way Ticket to Hell… And Back.'
Before the British rockers hit the stage, Hell or Highwater, featuring Atreyu drummer Brandon Saller, warmed the crowd up. Saller has made his reputation laying down a brutally heavy foundation for the metalcore pioneers, but he is a very capable frontman as well. As soon as the band came on stage, he established an instant rapport with the already sizable audience. Not only did he thank everyone profusely for showing up early, he asked them to be careful driving home in the snow (especially if they’ve drank at all at the show) and even jumped off stage toward the end of their 40-minute set to high-five people standing behind the barrier. He could be seen signing autographs and posing for photos at the band’s merch stand after their set. It was very obvious that Saller was very happy to be on stage in Columbus that night.
Hell or Highwater’s debut album, 'Begin Again,' won't be released until February 5, but the audience was treated to a sneak peak of the band's infectious amalgamation of hard rock, pop and rockabilly. They kicked off their set with their current single, “Gimme Love,” which got a very warm reception. Their sound is a very far cry from the Atreyu’s and fit right in at a Darkness concert. Even though they seemed to have a lot of existing fans in the audience, they undoubtedly made many, many more.
By the time the British powerhouse made their entrance, the Newport was packed. If it wasn’t a complete sellout, then it was very close to one. Amidst the thunderous cheering of the audience, the band belted out an energetic rendition of “Every Inch of You,” the lead-off track from their latest album, 'Hot Cakes, ' (read my review of the album here). The Darkness performed on a very simple stage – it was devoid of even a backdrop. The band members’ intense energy and excitement more than compensated for the barren stage, however, especially frontman Justin Hawkins. Wearing an outfit that looked like it came out of Freddie Mercury’s wardrobe, he went to great lengths to entertain the audience, from doing handstands in front of Ed Graham’s drum set, climbing on top of the PA stack, crowd-surfing and even playing an extended guitar solo while riding atop his brother Dan’s shoulders as he meandered all the way around the venue.
Besides “Every Inch of You,” The Darkness performed five more songs from the phenomenal new album. In fact, before busting out “Forbidden Love,” Justin announced it was the first time they’ve ever performed the song live and they were terrified of screwing up. They needn’t have worried though: they knocked it out of the park.
Perhaps realizing that more people own their breakthrough debut album than their sophomore album, The Darkness only performed two songs off the latter – “One Way Ticket” and the Thin Lizzy-inspired “Hazel Eyes” – and nine from 'Permission to Land.' They also threw in the semi-obscure “The Best of Me,” which is the b-side to their gargantuan global smash hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” That track was saved as the final song before the encore.
This was a far better performance than the last time The Darkness was here, at last year’s Rock On The Range festival (read my review of their set here). That is understandable, however: not only were they in the unenviable position of being the lone rock band on the main stage (all of the other bands were much heavier), Justin was under the weather, having caught the flu just days before the show. Not last night though: the vocalist was at peak performance and full throttle, his voice easily handling the vocal gymnastics required by songs such as “Concrete” and the fiery finale, “Love on the Rocks with No Ice.” And while Justin may have one of the most unique voices in hard rock, he is also an exceptional lead guitarist. Singing like he does must be difficult and taxing enough; singing while playing guitar must be even harder.
Now that The Darkness has its original lineup back together again, hopefully they will remain intact and perhaps attain all the success and adulation here in America that they rightfully deserve.
The Darkness’ setlist:
1. Every Inch of You
2. Black Shuck
3. Growing on Me
4. She Just a Girl, Eddie
5. One Way Ticket
6. Forbidden Love
7. Get Your Hands Off My Woman
8. Love Is Only a Feeling
9. Friday Night
10. Hazel Eyes
11. The Best of Me
12. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
13. Living Each Day Blind
14. Givin' Up
15. Stuck in a Rut
16. I Believe in a Thing Called Love
18. Love on the Rocks With No Ice