What has happened to rock music? The days of yesteryear in which androgyny and musical machismo went hand in hand are gone, having been replaced either with “hey’n and ho’n” straw men or a feature from Pitbull. Once 2005 rolled around rock music kind of dissipated and was eventually overcome by hip-hop, rap, and that pop/dubstep hybrid that makes your ears bleed. Rock bands began to diverge on different specific tonal paths, which worked wonders for groups like The Black Keys, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The White Stripes, and Kings of Leon, but nobody rose to assume the mantle of hair and glam rock.
It looked like the days of big hair and tight leather pants atop high-heeled boots had been traded for asymmetrical hair and tight pants atop vans, but luckily for those who hung to the 80s and 90s conception of rock music, there were a handful of groups that managed to maintain and prolong the lifespan of Rolling Stones meets KISS style rock, none more so than Suffolk’s The Darkness. Having seen their fair share of ups and downs – an initial run from 1999 to 2006, and reactivating in 2011 – the Lowestoft quartet are peak hard rock music.
The group that brought about “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” made their triumphant return to the states and made a stop in Nashville on Saturday, April 23rd, at War Memorial Auditorium. Admittedly, my familiarity with The Darkness stemmed primarily from the group’s 2003 debut record, Permission to Land, but form the show’s onset, it became quite apparent that the set would be filled with hellfire and fury from The Darkness I had yet to experience. The Darkness blew collective hairpieces off of the glam metal loving crowd, opening with “Barbarian,” a wavering hair metal ode that saw front man Justin Hawkins imbue his now shirtess, Jagger-like bravado upon the doting War Memorial Crowd. Hawkins and co. covered all the desired British glam rock bases – snappy dressers, ambling stage presence, and cheeky crowd interactions – as Hawkins called out for a rousing roll call from the crowd, and initially unimpressed, expressed his disappointment with a simple “that was fucking feeble.”
After running through “Black Shuck” and “Roaring Waters,” The Darkness and their audience coalesced in a manner of true metal masterdom, as the performance of “Givin’ Up” off Permission to Land saw everyone in the venue unified under the song’s reprise of “givin’ up, givin’ up, givin’ a fuck,” with a glorious light display behind the band. From that point on into the set, The Darkness had the once hesitant crowd fully committed to drinking the Kool Aid that was the “Back to the USSA” tour, following along with every set dynamic and flourish of the show. Before jumping into “One Way Ticket,” bassman Frankie Poullain toyed with crowd while wielding a cowbell and leading the room in “Let’s go Darkness” chants just before dropping into the track.
All in all The Darkness’ War Memorial set was a glorious return to full-fledged had rock, none of the seemingly ubiquitous introspective and pensive rock that has grown popular. It was an master class of unabashed British invasion led by Hawkins and co, showing what would and could be possible if contemporary rock stars added a little more hairspray and panache to their stage diet.