Friday night I donned my most obnoxious striped pants to see 80’s power rockers The Darkness play the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. The band took the stage with flamboyance, Justin Hawkins sporting a gregarious black and white pinstriped suit, complete with suspenders and his name emblazoned in metallics across the back, validating my calculated fashion choice.
Starting off with the opening track of their latest album, “Barbarians” front man Justin Hawkins, guitarist Dan Hawkins, and bassist Frankie Poullain were joined on stage by their latest rhythmic addition, drummer Rufus Taylor. Despite an obvious age gap, the 24-year-old son of Queen’s drummer, Roger Taylor, fit on stage amongst the experienced rockers seamlessly.
Audience members who came to the theatre expecting the over-the-top, campy experience The Darkness have come to be known for were not disappointed, with Justin consistently leaving us doubled over with laughter during a single-heavy set. One of the most entertaining parts of a Darkness show come as a result of audience participation, with Justin constantly amused by fans’ inability to hit his ball-breaking high notes. During “Friday Night” Justin sat before a piano, laughingly stating, “I love the way it all falls apart. It’s pitiful. Appalling,” in reference to the audience’s futile attempts at encouraged vocal support.
Before breaking into single, “One Way Ticket” the band was interrupted by a dozen zealous fans, who enthusiastically brought along their own cowbells. This led Justin to invite all of them on stage to join the band for the cowbell-laden track. Despite this hilarious development, the singer’s patience for fan-stage contact later grew thin, as a stage-diving fan interrupted their newest song, written with Taylor, knocking over Justin’s mic and causing the vocals to come to a temporary stand-still. Justin hit back, uttering an irritated “Get the fuck off my stage, you moron!” before transitioning into the equally aggressive “Get Your Hands Off My Woman”.
While for the most part, the other three band members were happy to play support to Justin’s ostentatious performance as front man, Poullain switched places with Justin for “Conquerors” to perform lead vocals for the first time ever on stage. Obviously Frankie was not on the same vocal caliber as Justin himself, (it’s hard to name many who are) but the audience could be gratified knowing they were witnessing Darkness history.
The band finished up the set with their now legendary, “I Believe In A thing Called Love” to peak enthusiasm and reformed on stage for a three-song encore, including, “Open Fire” and “Love On The Rocks With No Ice”. During the latter track, Justin rode manager John Howarth through the crowd, perched atop his shoulders in a Thin Lizzy t-shirt and no pants, playing his guitar behind his head to the delight of the masses.
Technically, Justin’s vocals are now even more phenomenal live than in recording, if that’s even possible, and the guitar solos passed between Justin and Dan throughout the set were positively face melting. Even if you are not a dedicated fan of late-70’s and 80’s glam metal, I heartily believe you’d be doing yourself a complete disservice as a music lover to miss out on what was one of the best live performances I’ve seen this year. And with a new album set for release in 2016, hopefully we can expect them back in Australia soon.