Due to main tour support, LostAlone, breaking down in their splitter van en route to Lincoln, the evening commences in a somewhat subdued fashion with two members of Scottish rock quintet The River 68's jamming out a few folk-tinged tunes on a couple of acoustic guitars. Their music is likeable through its own merits although, unavoidable circumstances aside, they're hardly an apt warm-up act for tonight's headliners, and seem to do a good job at boring the majority of a discernibly indifferent audience, most of whom can be heard nattering away above the level of the music. Good band (well, part of a band) but a case of wrong time and wrong place. Fortunately, with just a half hour change-over, it's only a short while before a previously static audience are enlivened into their first real movement of the evening as, at 9pm prompt, following a blast of Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys are Back in Town', The Darkness take to the stage. Initially appearing in hand-holding formation as back-lit silhouettes, they're greeted with loud cheers, and it's not long before they're rocking a packed Engine Shed with their infectiously energetic performance and feel-good rock tunes.
Playing two sets - the first an array of tracks from their second and third albums, and the much touted second consisting of 'Permission to Land' in its entirety, it transpires to be an evening of unmitigated, high-energy, mutual rock merriment as band and fans unashamedly indulge in a healthy dose of sonic nostalgia. Love 'em or hate 'em, regard 'em as hammy and cheesy or rock 'n' roll maestros, one fact can't be denied and that is The Darkness are entertainers par excellence. With both sets spanning a two hour period, frontman Justin Hawkins pads out that time with incessant between-song banter which includes speculating about a leaf he finds on the stage before handing it over to a roadie with the instruction to Google it to discover its origins; a discussion about the multifarious methods of pubic hair removal; and jovially stating he'll spit on anyone in the audience who refuses to sing along. And then there are other random antics such as Hawkins' leg clapping while in the position of a handstand; wandering out deep into the crowd on a security guy's shoulders whilst playing a solo; and a moment of intentional Spinal Tap pastiche where he announces Ed Graham will make the already beautiful city of Lincoln that little bit more beautiful with his drum solo, which involves a roadie spending more time bringing out and positioning a small rack of drums alongside Graham's kit than the actual solo itself. You can't help but be drawn into The Darkness' wonderfully buoyant vibe.
However, despite their light-hearted approach, there's some genuinely great music and musicianship on display in The Engine Shed tonight. Notably, Hawkins has still got it with his inhumanly wide vocal range which fills the venue with multi-octave tonal consonance. And the band's overall sound through the PA is astonishingly good - the best I've heard in The Engine Shed actually, so kudos to the band's sound guy (who, along with the lighting engineer, deservedly receives a mid-set shout-out from Hawkins). Of the two sets they play, it's the second that engenders the biggest crowd reaction although, with the band airing their biggest hits from their ephemerally successful heyday, that's no surprise. And when they complete the run through of 'Permission to Land', earlier premature shouts for them to play "the Christmas song" are rewarded with an encore performance of 'Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)'. With December merely days away, it feels like an apt conclusion to what's been a surprisingly entertaining evening. If you've always been ambivalent towards The Darkness, forget any preconceptions you might have and go check 'em out on a live stage as soon as possible.
Tuesday 26th November 2013
The Engine Shed in Lincoln, UK
Review & Photography by Mark Holmes
Click on thumbnails for larger images:
The Darkness at The Engine Shed, Lincoln, UK, 26th November 2013
Photograph copyright © 2013 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com