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[Review] The Darkness, Festival Hall Melbourne 03/02/2024

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album Permission to Land sees The Darkness back on Australian soil for an impressive string of dates. With singer Justin Hawkins going down with illness just before their arrival we have all been waiting with bated breath, but never fear The Darkness are here and ready to rock. They are no strangers to Australia being greedily lapped up with every visit, now it was my turn to see what all the fuss is about.

The iconic Melbourne stalwart Festival Hall is back up and running after a dubious period in no mans land, and I for one was glad to get back down to Dudley Street and rock out where so many music legends have graced the stage. The openers were plentiful giving punters great value for money, as Melbourne’s Cry Club and Brisbane’s DZ Deathrays got the party started. It was then up to Sydney lunatics You Am I to give the final warm up session. Treating us to a Spinal Tap set that opened up a world of nostalgic memories from the quintessential piece of fictional history. Tim Rogers was the perfect fit to pull off the The Majesty of Tap, he enveloped the role to perfection along with the perfect accompaniment in You Am I. Their musicianship and theatrics were the key to this set going next level, add to this Tim wearing silver flares and a black hooded cape it really set the tone. Stonehenge was delivered with faux stone appearing from the roof, keeping with the theme of the movie, it certainly enveloped the mocumentary with gusto. Hell Hole was another welcome additional and had the crowd up and about as Tim said “Open you cheeks to the sight and smell of the Tap!” as only he could. A wonderful addition to the show and a perfect fit for The Darkness.

The atmosphere was electric to say the least, green lights resembling a landing strip flashing down each side of the stage as The Darkness took full flight to an erupting Festival Hall. This show was their biggest in Australia to date and Melbourne music fans turned out in droves to witness this most prestigious celebration. Justin donning a red and black jumpsuit in his trademark fashion as they jumped into Black Shuck to get the party started. Working through the album in no particular order the fans were 100 per cent committed to making the show one for the memory banks with phones put away and everyone living in the moment. It felt like stepping back in time just people going nuts, hands in the air, clapping on command, dancing, singing and have a bloody awesome night.  Get Your Hands Of My Woman, Growing On Me, Givin’ Up were all slotted in as they worked through this cracker of an album. The punters singing the ‘oh, oh’s’ and ‘Givin Up, Givin Up Givin a Fuck’ with unabashed enthusiasm. Justin had now stripped the top half of his jumpsuit down saying “I didn’t think it would be this hot up here!”  But we all knew it wasn’t called ‘Festy Hall’ for nothing. Crowd engagement was second to none as Love Is Only A feeling and Stuck In A Rut played out, Rufus Tiger Taylor was smashing the skins to within an inch of their life and kept the set running like clockwork.

Dan Hawkins is really a jack of all trades when it comes to musical instruments, his guitar work is of the highest calibre as he strutted his stuff and worked the stage like a true professional.  Frankie Poullain kept pace with the bass, this four-string slayer did not miss a beat, so at home on the big stage as Friday Night saw the fans ready to sing. A sneaky little snippet of Led Zeps Immigrant Song was a worthy addition as super shredder Justin even noodled the intro of AC/Dc’s Thunderstruck before he launched into I Believe In A Thing Called Love. With Melbourne finally throwing up a summer day, good old Festy Hall started to really feel the heat, living up to its nickname in spades as the sweat drenched punters screamed for the one they had been waiting for. Arms aloft clapping in time it really was a sight to behold, Justin still hitting the high notes with faultless precision of a man many years his junior. With the roof well and truly raised the boys left the stage to cool their jets for five minutes but the Melbourne maniacs were having none of it as they stomped and clapped, and if you have been to Festival Hall before you would know those timber floor do love a good feet hammering. It was no surprise when The Darkness returned that Justin said he could hear the stomping from downstairs. With their outfits changed to bedroom attire, all four sporting silk robes or PJ’s of choice, even guitar tech extraordinaire Ian Norfolk sporting a robe. With Justin having more guitar changes than I have had hot dinners he was certainly kept on his toes, and he did not miss a beat. I can see why they call him the fifth member of the band.  Speaking of the band, Justin went on to do introductions to the tune of In The Air Tonight made famous by Phil Collins, with his brother Dan on the drums, mixing things up a bit. Once again I reiterate, super talented musicians!!

Justin launched into I Love You 5 Times, almost a cappella with the fans singing along until he strapped on his guitar and ramped it up a level or two.  Love On The Rocks With No Ice saw out the show and had the rabid crowd in a right frenzy as Justin took to the shoulders of one of his team and made his way in and around the floor of Festival Hall. All while shredding up a storm and not missing a single note, fans very respectful of him with the odd pat on the back as he made his way from one side to the other. After being delivered back on stage he showcased his skills again playing, jumping and even hopping on one leg as he played like his life depended on it.  Forever the showman and a moment forever etched in our hearts. The Darkness really are the complete package and if are yet to see them do not delay, with just a few shows left on this Australian tour it would be a cardinal sin to miss out.

Celebrating 20 years in the biz is no small feat but here’s hoping there will be many more years in the tank for The Darkness. Gauging on tonight’s performance Melbourne Airport will not just grant permission to land but dedicate a runway in their honour. Thanks for the thrills boys, here’s to seeing you back in Aus real soon!

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The Darkness @ The Tivoli, Brisbane 19/10/2022

Brisbane music fans were in for a night of high-octane rock ‘n’ roll with UK rock icons The Darkness drawing out a capacity crowd at their midweek gig at Brisbane’s equally as iconic music venue The Tivoli.

Over their 20+ year career, The Darkness has become synonymous with the pure essence of rock, breathing a whole new life back into glam metal and heavy rock.

Bringing their 2021 album, Motorheart to the fans, the band wrapped up their Australian tour on Wednesday night in true Darkness fashion.

The Darkness have lived the epitome of a rock n roll life covering all the highs and lows that befit the genre. Line up changes, addictions, recoveries, massive hits and struggles to keep it all going. Despite their challenges, one thing was evident on this wet and windy ‘school night’ gig – their fans love them faithfully and unconditionally.

With the current line-up of original members Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain along with epic young drummer Rufus Taylor (son of Queen’s Roger), The Darkness have not only stayed current in the world’s giant pool of mass-produced music, but they have also continually taken rock by the balls and held up the essence of what this genre represents. Big riffs, exploding drums, killer bass and vocal dexterity defines a classic rock voice. And that is exactly what the crowd were in for at their final Aussie show.

But first – we need to talk about The Southern River Band.
One of the best things about international touring up and running again is the chance to get in early to check out our local talent and maybe find your new favourite local artist. I am more than confident to say that, judging by the crowds’ (and later the headliner’s), response to TSRB, many indeed, discovered their new favourite Aussie band this night.

The Southern River Band are Cal Kramer, Dr. Dobbin’ Donny Carter, Pat Smith and Todd Pickett. Imagine a musical stew where you took a little bit of Def Leppard, Status Quo, Rolling Stone, The Black Crows and Queen and seasoned it with a big dose of Aussie rock flavour from Skyhooks to AC/DC to Stevie Wright. What a feast.

For those old enough to remember, let me take you back to a day (the ‘70s) when the Ted Mulry Gang were one of the hottest touring acts in the country. The Southern River Band have the same Aussie larikin spirit, entertaining storytelling and authentic rock soul that gave TMG its iconic reputation.

They opened their set with Second Best winning the crowd over with frontman Kramar (looking like he just walked off the set of Stranger Things) oozing charisma and winning the crowd over by the first chorus. The band are as tight as a drum, performing like seasoned pros. Kramer’s hilarious random crowd banter advising everyone to never buy a pie at Canberra airport, had the crowd hooked.

Taking the punters on a journey through their tracks from the bluesy Chasing After Love (I’ll Burn A Hole In Your Shoes) to the fully charges Cigarettes (Ain’t Helping Me None) TSRB had The Tivoli eating out of the palms of their hands. They played, joked and rocked through their set blowing everyone’s musical minds along the way.

Kramer is a rock star in looks and sound. Shirtless with studded leather pants, he had the crowd hooked in with their ballsy track Chimney. The band don’t miss a beat and was having as much fun on stage as the almost capacity crowd. Headbanging their way into the hearts of Brisbane music fans. They took the set out with big guitar riffs and belting drums on Vice City II. The crowd were happy and showed their love with a roar.

It wasn’t long before the crowd had refilled and refreshed and found their place for the show. The Darkness didn’t keep the fans waiting for long.

Their entrance onto the stage was hyped up with the befitting musical introduction of Abba’s 1975 instrumental track, Arrival, belting out across the crowd.

The Darkness have an army of faithful fans and they were ready to see the band hit the stage. Their arrival on the stage had the crowd moving to throw their horns and headbanging to the opening track Motorheart. Dynamic frontman Justin Hawkins worked the stage like the seasoned pro he is, showing off his famous vocal skills.

If you had to define to someone what pure untarnished rock sounded like you would play The Darkness. Growing on Me had Hawkins using the stage to its full potential playing directly to the fans. His love of being on stage comes through in his lively banter with the crowd. The fans take on this energy with a playful vibe running through the floor.

More from the latest album with Welcome Tae Gasgae then back to the early days with One Way Ticket bringing out the pipes from their faithful fans. The song ends with a riff explosion then we go back to the new with It’s Love, Jim. The band are the epitome of rock n roll. They wear their image like the icons they are, Guitarist Dan Hawkins with his Thin Lizzy t-shirt and leather jacket, Frankie Poullain pulling off the glitter and glam with his sparkly jacket and Rufus Tiger Taylor belting away at the back like the star drummer he was born to be.

An eager fan threw a bra on stage and Justin puts it on backwards drawing out cheers from the crowd, wearing it through the next few tracks. They gave Give It Up the ‘boogie woogie’ treatment with a bluesy tempo through the first half of the song.

They then welcomed their guitar tech Ian Norfolke on stage, with a semi-acoustic addition to Heart Explodes. The crowd responded, hands high clapping along to the opening beat reminiscent of Queen’s Radio Ga Ga. They played non-stop through tracks old and new including epic tracks Barbarian, Love Is Only A Feeling and Japanese Prisoner Of Love. Friday Night had the Wednesday night crowd singing along in mass.

The band took everyone back to where it all started with their debut single Get Your Hands Off My Woman, with the frontman jumping into the crowd. 

His agile antics took him from standing on the hands of the fans to climbing onto the balcony and diving into the waiting hands of the crowd below. 

With the night almost done Justin, back with the band, called The Southern River Band back onto the stage and gave the lads massive praise. They led the crowd into their smash hit I Believe In A Thing Called Love asking that all phones be stashed away and to just enjoy the moment. The crowd were on a high and when the band left the stage they knew there was more to come. They returned with encore tracks Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) and Love On The Rocks With No Ice.

The fans left The Tivoli and headed out into the rain happy and fully satiated with their dose of The Darkness.

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The Darkness @ Forum Theatre, Melbourne 11/10/2022

Finally, after such a long wait since the Easter is Cancelled Tour was…well… canceled, our wait for The Darkness is over.   With COVID claiming so much from each of our lives, it is such a special moment to welcome back Justin, Dan, Frankie, and Rufus.

Now before welcoming The Darkness back to Melbourne in their opening show of the 2022 Motor-heart tour of Australia and New Zealand, the packed Forum, Tuesday night audience is in for a homegrown and very special treat indeed.  None other than the lads from Thornlie themselves, hard-rocking The Southern River Band. The pre-show stage darkness is broken by the unmistakable silhouette of the mullet from hell, marking the entrance of the brilliant Aussie Cal Kramer and the lads from the banks of the Canning River.

As The Southern River Band crank into their immediately thrilling set, one can’t help but wonder how much of the Aussie hard rock spirit that emanates from the Bon Scott statue at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fremantle has found its way into the music, the moves, the look and the feel of The Southern River Band.  Of course, everywhere TSRB plays, they leave with far more fans than they had when they arrived, but with the first song, it becomes abundantly clear that there were more than just a few fans of Rumour & Innuendo in this Melbourne crowd.

With the irreverent and unapologetic comical skills of Cal at the fore, the brilliant pounding and thrilling music of TSRB is always accompanied by a hilarious spattering of humorous intermissions that never fail to tickle the ocker in us all.

Every time this band takes to the stage, they seem to challenge themselves to do better than ever before. The remarkable thing is that they achieve it…always. This is the kind of support tour opportunity where a screaming Forum crowd, should by all rights guarantee a sold-out Watch Yourself Tour opener at the Corner on November 11th and a kick-arse national tour.

With stories from meth-ridden workmates when plastering worksites, to stealing the band intro thunder from the bass-wielding bandmates, to feeling like a sheep on a hobby farm, or the more malevolent edge to track about drug dealers where one can genuinely feel the drug-ridden underbelly of Gutterland, Australia oozing from their music into the daylight, the Southern River Band are never to be missed. Tonight, they gave Melbourne a small taste as to why.  Huge thanks to our hard-rockin’ heroes from the west.

But with a little tickling up of the stage and the affectionate coddling of instruments that musty surely be necessary to ready them for a thorough pounding courtesy of The Darkness, the wait is over. 

After a dramatic cinematic score introduces the atmosphere along with a fitting purple haze, the quartet enters the stage to an eruption of roars from the crowd as they open up with ‘Motor Heart’ and ‘Black Shuck’, Justin already delivering his quintessential high whilst flaunting his playful charm.

Accompanied by the equally talented ensemble, Justin Hawkins put on a stellar performance from beginning to end, amplifying his charm and wit, even donning a punky leather pest given by a fan in the audience. Movement and rock n’ roll presence like no other

Partway through the show, Justin broke into a famous Freddy Mercury-inspired call and response with the sold-out theatre of The Forum, even hilariously breaking into an operatic/jazz vocal performance which left every living thing in the room with a grin on their faces

After a rendition of Happy Birthday for an ambitious fan in the crowd, Justin playfully teases arguably the most awaited number of the night, ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’, right before erupting into the classic tune. Not to mention Justin abruptly halts the track right before the first chorus getting everyone to put away their phones and savor what was usurpingly a magical moment, before completing the song and walking off-stage

Closely following the amplified chants of the crowd demanding an encore, the ensemble breaks onto the stage once again, this time with Justin in a funky, country-like outfit while the rest of the band is damn near stripped down to boxers. The lights turn green and red as the group starts performing their festive tune ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’, joined by Cal of The Southern River Band accompanied by sleigh bells.

When we all thought it couldn’t get any better, Justin climbs onto the back of a security guard and surfs him through the packed Forum crowd shredding a long extended solo to their finale, ‘Love On The Rocks With No Ice

The Darkness can still be seen at the following dates: You wont regret it

Friday, Oct 14: Astor, Perth
Saturday, Oct 15: Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Sunday, Oct 16:  Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tuesday, Oct 18: Kambri, Canberra
Wednesday Oct 19: Tivoli, Brisbane
Friday, Oct 21: Hunter Lounge, Wellington
Saturday, Oct 22: Powerstation, Auckland 

General Tickets On Sale Now From

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