Review: The Darkness rocks the Cambridge Corn Exchange
Following enthusiastic support from the brilliantly named Massive Wagons, the four members of The Darkness - singer/guitarist Justin Hawkins, his guitarist brother Dan, bass player Frankie Poullain and drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor - took the stage to a hearty welcome from the Corn Exchange crowd on Wednesday, November 24.
Dressed all in black, apart from Poullain’s grey flared trousers, the band began by playing the hard-hitting Welcome Tae Glasgae, the opening track on its new album, Motorheart. This made me wonder whether the plan was to perform the new record in its entirety, like they did in 2019 with Easter Is Cancelled.
However, second song One Way Ticket, from the quartet’s second album back in 2005, confirmed that this was not going to be the case. They did go on to play a few tunes from Motorheart, namely the title track, the wonderful Sticky Situations, It’s Love, Jim, The Power and the Glory of Love and Eastbound. No room for the amazing Jussy’s Girl though, sadly.
Still, I shouldn’t - and won’t - complain as it was to its phenomenally successful debut album, Permission to Land, that the band also turned, including six songs from said masterpiece - seven if you include the European Christmas edition bonus track, Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End).
One of my favourite Darkness songs, Growing on Me, was delivered with aplomb, as was the groovy Givin’ Up. Fairly early on, Justin said: “I hadn’t anticipated it being so hot, I’m going to remove my shirt,” leaving him as the charismatic shirtless frontman we all know and love.
At one point, Justin went off stage and came back out to sing Black Shuck in one of his famous catsuits. He was also hilarious - his dance moves, expressions he pulled while playing the guitar and interaction with the audience were all highly entertaining.
The fans showed their appreciation by omitting crazy screams of “woo!” in between songs. “I love these woos,” said the singer, noting that they appeared to be unique to Cambridge and that in Norwich the previous night, the audience had been quiet in between songs. This mention of Norwich led to boos. “Is there some sort of rivalry between Cambridge and Norwich?” asked Justin, genuinely puzzled.
The impressive vocalist - that trademark falsetto remains as potent as ever - got everyone singing along to the chorus of the anthemic Friday Night before performing the song with the band, and then included something about GCSEs in my absolute favourite Darkness tune, Solid Gold, after an audience member had told him their daughter was taking her GCSE mocks.
His initial reaction to being told this was one of surprise: “Is this a rock show, or...?”
It was very much a rock show - and an outstanding one at that. When the band came to do its biggest hit, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a section of the crowd was jumping energetically.
“That’s good bouncing,” said Justin approvingly, before he stopped the song to admonish those who were filming with their phones. “Put your phones away!” he demanded, citing those who were jumping as setting the right example. “We’ve been locked up for two years, let’s have some fun!” He made a good point.
The band went off stage and came back out dressed in elaborate Christmas fancy dress to perform the aforementioned Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End), a satisfying end to a more than satisfying night.
Justin and co - they were also joined on stage at various moments by an acoustic guitarist and a leather-clad man on cowbell - may have been unfairly derided as a 'joke band' when they first broke through in 2003, but they have gone on to become one of the greatest rock acts of the last 20 years, up there with the very best, and maybe one day we’ll all realise just how lucky we are to have them.