Spinal Tap, Minus Irony

Ahhh, the Darkness, that Brit-bred band of glammy revivalists and their seductive aura of next-big-thingness who opted to bypass OC altogether on this tour, thereby forcing us to trek down to San Diego to engage them in a proper sonic deconstruction. This would take all of 12 seconds for anyone with even the sparsest knowledge of rock & roll history. But let's lay down a thesis first: we love the Darkness; we get the Darkness, and we can't stop guffawing at all our rock-critic peers who are as nutjobby over them as we are, when, in 1974 or so, bands like the Darkness were the bane of a rock critic's existence. The rise of the Darkness is related directly to the Great Hanson Phenomenon of 1997. That year, critics raved about the bubblegummy Osmonds-sound-alike tune "MMMBop"; if the Osmonds had released the same song in 1972, music scribes the globe over would have spent the equivalent of Iraqi's annual oil production condemning it in breathless this-crap-is-killing-rock-&-roll! columns.

It's an embrace of nostalgia and an acknowledgement that our first reactions are sometimes overreactions. Throw in the teen and preteen demographics, for which a band like the Darkness is completely new (there's even a teenage Darkness tribute band in OC!), and you're looking at a gargantuan rock & roll moneymaker.

Critics may love the Darkness, but critics hated their influences, the Queen-Zep-AC/DC-Slade-Thin Lizzy theme (with a dash of David Lee Roth on the side, if only for front man Justin Hawkins' leaping leg splits). But critics don't buy tickets, and regular folks are buying them up at every Darkness tour stop. They are that ultra-rare rock & roll entity—a new, young band that's winning over parents and their kids. At this gig, the age range looked to be from 6 to 60, the kids borrowing their mom's old "For Those About to Rock, We Salute You!" T-shirts they were probably conceived in.

The Darkness are Spinal Tap minus irony, campiness without shame, a band that embraces each clichd rock & roll pose as if they invented it—from the huge sheet they draped in front of the stage in order to make their grand, pompous, silhouettes-and-spotlights entrance, to the skintight trousers and naked-torso-exposing jump suit costumes (not to mention the purple feather boa and hair-held-back-by-bandanna accoutrements).

There was fey Hawkins and his greatest attribute, a Freddie Mercury-castrato voice that's the band's centerpiece, along with the Brian May Gibson guitar crunches of his brother Dan. There was crotch-thrusting a-plenty and other naughty bits, such as when Justin asked for (and got) various barely legal women in the audience to hoist their shirts up, and when he coerced a 13-year-old boy to yell, "FUCK!" into his microphone (as the tyke's pop gazed on proudly), the kid later hopping onstage to lead the crowd in a "MOTHER! FUCKER!" chant. (Justin also got everybody to yell, "CUNT!" for no particular reason.) There were those great, riff-heavy tunes, like their America-conquering epic "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" and "Holding My Own," a histrionic power ballad about wanking performed without a trace of humor. (Contrast that with the very funny power ballad "Love Is Only a Feeling," which Justin introduced with a lesson on proper cigarette-lighter choreography.) And there were Justin's totally kiss-ass shout-outs to the locals ("San Diego! A bit like Los Angeles but infinitely cooler!" which you bet gets slightly altered in every town the Darkness hits—"Hello, Cleveland!"). There was their love song to smack-shooting, "Givin' Up," and their fantastic double-entendre "Growing On Me," which is either about being stalked by a hot chick or enduring a nasty bout of pubic lice (you decide: "I wanna shake you off, but you just won't go/And you're all over me, but I don't want anyone to know/That you're attached to me, that's how you've grown/Won't you leave me, leave me, leave me alone?"). Somebody—one of their roadies?— threw panties at them.

They didn't put on a rock & roll show so much as perform a Smithsonian-worthy rock & roll experience. The Darkness are what happens when that Queen or AC/DC tribute band you hire for your party starts doing its own songs, hoping everybody's too tanked to notice, but nobody winds up caring anyway because they're too busy worshiping the riffs and throwing the Satan sign. Will the Darkness' lifespan extend beyond a second album? No way. As much as the band hates to hear it, they're strictly novelty, destined to be artistically imprisoned by the nostalgia they manufacture. But for now, they sure are a helluva lotta fun.


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