Live Review: The Darkness at La Riviera (Madrid, Spain) (30/01/20)

For somebody who is not acquainted with The Darkness’ live performance, their opening presentation in the form of all-white formally dressed figures, seemingly pure as the driven snow, accompanied by a blue dimming in the lights and an acoustic mandolin intro, is an unforeseen jaw-dropper. Scenes in the glimmering screen behind drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor, the son of Queen’s Roger Taylor, illustrated angels taking off to cerulean blue skies. Dan Hawkins switched between the acoustic and the electric guitar with great care whilst his brother, Justin Hawkins, took over the spotlight with his fresh high-pitched vocals, right before immersing in a guitar solo of his own.

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The Darkness is an off the wall band. Born into this century (2000) in Suffolk, East England, the foursome is made of siblings Justin Hawkins (frontman, lead vocals and lead guitars) and Dan Hawkins (rhythm guitar and occasional backing vocals); Rufus Tiger Taylor (drums and backing vocals); and Frankie Poullain (bass and backing vocals). Their 2003 single ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ (Permission to Land, 2003) launched them to fame when it reached number two in the UK Singles Chart, staying eleven weeks on this Chart [Source], as it was incessantly being played in radio stations worldwide. A few months after, their debut album “Permission to Land” (2003) topped the UK Albums Chart for four weeks [Source].

Embracing and developing a neo glam rock based on the impact of 70s-80s original glam and hard rock icons such as Brian May, Led Zeppelin or Thin Lizzy, Justin and Dan Hawkins, interestingly enough, started out playing quite a few proggy covers of the likes of Marillion and Genesis. Frankly, this blend of glam, hard and prog rock influences could all have in common a “theatrical aspect” which is represented in The Darkness’ quirky staging and outfits, with Justin wearing offbeat tights or boilersuits always showing off most of his chest and arms filled with old school tattoos. It is pleasing to see such an accurate naturalisation of neo glam rock terms by the ingenious band who will be turning twenty this year.

The setlist was orderly arranged: to begin with, the new album, “Easter Is Cancelled” (2019), played in full with distinctive short films -tribal hearts, oldies pictures, old school roses twisted around, a cartoon representation of Titanic by the band- for each track on the screen, whilst the whole band maintained the all-white outfits and etherial luminosity. At some point, it was all so picture perfect it almost seemed a contest to find the band member with the silkiest hair. In the mix, Taylor’s drumming was integrated in a way it did not seem booming or excessive, just the right amount. One could perfectly tell the difference between Poullain’s Gibson Thunderbird IV bass and D. Hawkins’ Gibson Les Paul guitar, although both were playing around with the same elegant mid frequencies. J. Hawkins’ vocal abilities were understandably the loudest, as if proving without a doubt how the frontman had taken great care of keeping up his abilities over the years.

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Frankie Poullain (left) and Justin Hawkins (right)

It all changed when the first “Easter Is Cancelled” set was over. The band, with the greatest of ease, went on a quick break and returned with new obscure outfits, Thin Lizzy t-shirts and darker tights, bad boy half smiles and a greatest hits second set ready and raring to go kicking ass. The middle-aged men crowd, who had mostly been very quiet until then, seemed to be absorbing faster the darker hard rock style and energy of the second set, and many signs of the horns rose animatedly amongst the fans. Justin showed some no-nonsense frontman attitude when he invited some fans to put their phones down. Taylor played the cymbals earnestly, tickling them mindfully. Track after track, The Darkness were making clear that, above all, they were entirely versatile and open-minded.

A very special moment took place with a mashup between The Darkess’ cover of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ (The Bends, 1996), which was included in their 2012 album “Hot Cakes”; and a very subtle but progressively building-up version of The Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (Through The Looking Glass, 1968), beautifully embellished with Justin’s falsetto.

To call it a day, The Darkness parted from Madrid with the iconic ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ (Permission to Land, 2003) telling the audience to “listen to the rhythm of their heart”. Indeed, the unique glam rock masterclass had come to an end and the people of La Riviera were already believing in a band called The Darkness.

If you feel like attending one of The Darkness’ “Easter Is Cancelled Tour” shows, check out their full touring schedule here.

Check out the full setlist here.

Special thanks to Cooking Vinyl.

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