The Catalyst | Santa Cruz, CA | April 8, 2016
In the midst of April, a Darkness had settled over Santa Cruz, CA – more specifically, within the confines of The Catalyst, which held a near-packed audience waiting for one of the most misunderstood cult favorite bands around – The Darkness.
Now, I have to admit up front, this band had never really been my cup of tea, so to speak, based on the little that I had heard on radio, but before casting full judgement it would only be fair to see them live, to get full feel of the creative process. The best job any artist can do, is to take someone who is unconvinced, and turn them around within a two-hour period – and that is exactly what happened at this show. I went in curious, I gave the confused side-cocked head for a song or two, and I left feeling very entertained, very amused, and wanting to do it again. And I’ll even give the album all a fair listening to.
And now, back to the show. The show opened with “Given’ Up,” off of the first album, “Permission To Land.” And to make a point, the entire show featured 9 of the 10 songs off that same album, out of the 17 songs performed. This launched into “Barbarian.” At some point, during the first couple of songs or so, vocalist / guitarist Justin Hawkins claimed to have split the backsides of his trousers, as he pondered aloud the predicament he has caused himself, while asking the crowd if anyone happened to have a sewing kit, then promptly showing his derrière to everyone as proof (although no split could be seen). This was just the beginning of what makes this band so enjoyable to its fans – Justin’s unpredictable and humorous banter between songs. At times one could argue that there were a bit too many “dead spots” where his stares, or his wardrobe changes, went a bit long, but overall it didn’t diminish the attention-level.
As one fan pointed out, watching The Darkness in concert, with the humor throughout, is a bit like watching a Benny Hill show (for the British humor aspect), or even “Bad News” (which was the British version of “Spinal Tap,” featuring some “Young Ones” alumni). The band performed in rather mismatched wardrobes, with Justin doing changes into various “rocker” outfits, bassist Frankie Poullain in his worst disco-era leisure suit attire, guitarist (and Justin’s brother) Dan Hawkins sporting a simple “Thin Lizzy” shirt look, and drummer Rufus “Tiger” Taylor in his Hawaiian tourist outfit.At the onset of one song, Frankie pulled out, and teased the crowd with what American audiences want – more cowbell, as he silently stood, stick and bell in hands, before starting off the song “One Way Ticket.” Other notable moments were Justin’s time at the piano for two of the encore songs, “Friday Night” and “English Country Garden,” as he came out in garbed only in white tennis shorts (that looked more like “tighty-whitey” undergarments) and black boots, while finishing the show during “Love On The Rocks With No Ice” while playing guitar on the shoulders of a roadie, walking Justin through the crowd and back.
As it was, there were a few attendees at the show who kept questioning what was really going on, and didn’t seem to grasp the “in joke.” My thoughts on what I saw was that this is a band who is very good at what they do, great musicians first and foremost, fronted by a punk-ish singer (in humor and attitude) who are a tongue-in-cheek parody of themselves being very real at performing the hard rock music that they love. This is not to say that they are a joke in any way, but rather a bit of razzing on themselves while covering a cherished musical era, the 1970s, especially the band Queen. A bit confusing, yes. But that just adds to the uniqueness, cleverness, and enjoyment of the whole spectacle. So to those who remain lost, no worries, but suffice to say, by the audience reaction, this show was on point, the performance was excellent, and the audience was loving every minute of it.
As a final note, to those who didn’t realize – the drummer, Rufus Taylor, is rock royalty of sorts, being the son of legendary Queen drummer, Roger Taylor. Rufus himself has been doing double-duty performing with Queen as well as The Darkness. That aspect made this show that much more special.
If you’ve never seen The Darkness and love the band, or are simply curious what everyone else is into, don’t miss their show. A really fun live experience for all.