Katie Leigh-Lancaster reflects on the infectious theatricality and glam-rock riffs of The Darkness’ Tour de Prance
Drenched in green stagelight, a catsuit-clad Justin Hawkins handstands by the drum kit, clapping his legs to the beat. An opulent silver platter is brought on stage, revealing a cow-bell for bassist Frankie to play during ‘One Way Ticket’. Gloriously eccentric and unashamedly flamboyant, theatricality has become synonymous with The Darkness’ stage presence, serving as the driving force for their aptly-named Tour de Prance. The seventeen-date UK tour, which precedes their three month-long North American leg next Spring, promises to bring all things ‘vaudevillian’ to the O2 Academy Birmingham. ‘Open Fire’, from their fourth studio album, The Last of Our Kind, is a gutsy opener to the gig. Deviating from fan favourites, ‘Growing On Me’ and ‘Barbarian’, it resides within The Darkness’ lesser known discography, but asserts itself as a glam-rock earworm nonetheless. Over a slick guitar riff, Justin flaunts his vocal elasticity, pairing the unfamiliar baritone of the verses with his signature screeching falsetto in the main hook, ‘Open fire, on my heart’. As the crowd roars through the final reverberations of the guitar, Justin theatrically flicks his guitar pick to ricochet from his back heel, and throws it to a doting audience.
Polished as their stage presence may be, The Darkness have never been a band to compromise comedy for precision. Ahead of cult-favourite ‘Friday Night’, a tongue-in-cheek ode to school romance, Justin topically reminisces on the heavy Birmingham accent of an old classmate. ‘Matthew… Mark… Luke? John? Something biblical’ he comically ponders his name, before attempting a farcical Brummie accent. The band’s conversational approach with the audience strikes a parity between intimacy and theatricality, balancing casual anecdotes with sing-along competitions between the two halves of the crowd. The roar of ‘I got Bridge Club on Wednesday / Archery on Thursday / Dancing on a Friday night’ throughout the crowd proves that only The Darkness can transform the mundanity of extra-curricular activities into an anthemic hook.
Throughout their set, the band flaunt the witty lyricism from across their legendary career, from the hyperbolic ‘Black Shuck’ from their debut album, to the satirical ‘Southern Trains’ from their newest release, Pinewood Smile. The crude, yet undeniably infectious, lyricism of ‘Every Inch of You’ proves to be a crowd favourite, rousing chanting and crowd-surfing in its wake.
To the deafening demand of an encore, the band return on stage, Justin now adorned in a metallic gold catsuit and wielding a red glittered guitar. Ever the showman, he proposes an audience vote for their finale: the festive smash-hit, ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’, or their legendary debut single, ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’. To riotous cheers, he teases that ‘Just this once, we’ll play both’. The band’s tireless gusto is symbolic of not just their chart legacy, but their refreshing attitude to performance as well. The Darkness are not merely musicians, but entertainers dedicated to the gratification of their audience. Their stage presence is nothing short of a spectacle, setting them apart as a band who knows exactly what their fans want, and is eager to give it to them.