The Darkness inspires nostalgia. When the UK rock outfit released its debut album “Permission to Land” in 2003, it was a throwback to the gloriously cheesy rock of the 1980s hair metal era. Friday night at Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit, The Darkness again hearkened back to an earlier era — in this case, those seemingly carefree days of 2003 and 2004.
Frontman Justin Hawkins, in a leather red, white and blue get-up and sporting Capt. Jack Sparrow facial hair, looks a little rougher around the edges these days but is still his wildly charismatic self. “Seven or eight years have passed, and (expletive) all has changed,” he told the sold-out crowd. “Everybody in Detroit is absolutely mental!”
The band’s 1-hour, 45-minute show pulled heavily from “Permission to Land” and its B-sides, touched on its disappointing 2005 follow-up, “One Way Ticket to Hell… And Back” and featured a handful of new songs. Hawkins has scaled back on the over-the-top theatrics but still has an arsenal of rock moves to pull from, and he he closed the show with a ceremonial guitar solo through the audience and by diving off of Saint Andrew’s balcony into the crowd below. Even a dialed-down Darkness is still the Darkness.
In a sense, the band was never built to last. The group split up after “One Way Ticket to Hell… And Back,” undone by the very things — drugs, basically — their songs and imagery sent up. It’s like the group was a living, breathing “Behind the Music,” and was destined to live out the full episode. The group members went their separate ways; frontman Justin Hawkins formed a band, Hot Leg, and wrote songs for several artists (“Music Again,” the song he wrote on Adam Lambert’s debut album, is awesome), while the other members formed the band Stone Gods.
But the stars aligned and brought The Darkness back together, and the band’s current reunion tour comes as the group is having a mini-moment. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” has grown in stature since its initial release, and both it and Hawkins appeared in a Super Bowl ad. The band is working on material for a new album. Is the world ready for The Darkness v. 2.0?
The group’s return is more than just a nostalgia trip, however. Other bands have donned jumpsuits and teased their hair out, but the Darkness stood out because it had rock solid songs to back them up. Their material was amusing and light, sure, but were built on a foundation of excellent songwriting and stood out as remarkable pop songs. Kitsch will only take you so far, and the Darkness was always more than just a joke band.
The Darkness let those songs — “Love is Only a Feeling,” “Get Your Hands Off of My Woman,” “Givin’ Up” — shine on Friday. A late show cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” was a surprise, and showed off Hawkins’ impressive high range. The crowd was in full fist-pumping, high-fiving mode, singing along with songs like “Black Shuck” and the closer, “Love on the Rocks With No Ice.” But it was the spirited and carefree “Friday Night” that rang the most true, and perhaps best summed up the evening: “Let the music smother me, whole weekend recovery/ dancing on a Friday night.”
The Darkness’ set list, 2/10/12, Saint Andrew’s Hall
- Black Shuck
- Growing On Me
- Best of Me
- One Way Ticket
- Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us
- Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman
- Out of This World
- Holding My Own
- Love Is Only a Feeling
- Friday Night
- Everybody Have a Good Time
- Physical Sex
- Is It Just Me?
- Street Spirit
- She’s Just a Girl, Eddie
- Givin’ Up
- Stuck in a Rut
- I Believe in a Thing Called Love
- Love on the Rocks With No Ice