The Darkness, London 2021

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As always it was an entertaining show and much needed escapism right now

London: O2 Shepherd's Bush – 16 December 2021

Massive Wagons were unable to make the last two dates of the tour as support due to Covid and were replaced tonight by Kris Barras playing an acoustic set of a half dozen songs, including hits 'Dead Horse' and 'Hail Mary', new song 'My Parade' and a cover of 'Watchtower'. They had apparently only found out midday that they were playing and had raced up the motorway to make the gig. It was a sedentary affair and pleasant enough. They did say "If in Doubt SHRED" and a number of notes were definitely bent, despite the acoustic format. There is a limit to what can be done as an acoustic duo, of course. The crowd were aware of the circumstances and appreciated their efforts.

The Darkness, on the other hand, strutted on with no limits as a mantra. In a set of mainly classics with several songs from the new album frontloaded into the first half, the new songs fitted in seamlessly with an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. Opening with 'Welcome Tae Glasgae', the same track that opens the new album, Justin Hawkins sported a Marlon Brando style leather biker cap and vest; somewhat understated for him perhaps. However, 'Growing On Me' and 'One Way Ticket' also made an early appearance in the set before classic in the making 'Motorheart', after which Justin kissed his guitar which had indeed done a soulful job. They look relaxed and confident and Justin noodled away at his solos, taking everything in his stride. There's no sign of ennui that it's the end of the tour, although Frankie Poullain and Dan Hawkins do leave the central limelight to Justin as an unstoppable tour de force and it's quite hard to take pictures of drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor who doesn't really raise himself above the parapet, concentrating instead on the job.

We are only half a dozen songs in before Justin removed his vest to go bare chested for new album track, 'Sticky Situations'. Still looking great for his age, he's still regularly jumping off the drum riser with no ill effects. Hamming it up with running moon walks and shagging motions to the crowd in 'Givin' Up', the crowd began to clap. New song 'It's Love Jim' follows and Dan and Frankie do a two-man guitar snuggle, before Frankie raised his bass triumphantly with one leg up on the riser.

The half way mark is commemorated by a quick change by Justin into a gold-fringed cat suit and in 'Black Shuck' he extended a gold leather trainer toe to touch the barrier - the only physical contact with the crowd in this high Covid protocol show which has enabled them to make it right the way through the tour without cancellations. The added flexibility in the outfit allowed him to do a high scissor kick as a flourish at the end. Stopping to dedicate 'Till My Heart Explodes' to a small boy in the balcony, it is the only track played tonight from the excellent penultimate album 'Easter Is Cancelled', perhaps reflecting that the previous tour had played those songs as a magnum opus in their entirety.

We literally got into the swing as the crowd were directed to do the two-arm sway from side to side for 'Saturday Night' and 'Love Is Only A Feeling' which sees Justin doing a major solo front of stage. Beating his chest in a Tarzan motion in an implied reference to ruling the jungle, the slightly heavier 'Solid Gold' matches the outfit. All the time mooching, mimicking cowboy riding motions and putting his leg over his guitar, the man never keeps still, making him the consummate frontman. He engages the crowd between songs by requesting and repeating first names, no doubt making friends for life, He reminded the crowd "We're all in this together!" before sanitising and launching into 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman".

A comment that they are nearing the end of the set elicited a "boo" for all the right reasons. The audience are reminded that we need to celebrate the moment before being required to bounce for final track of the main set, 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love', in which Justin employed finger tapping technique from over the top rather than the underside of the neck of his guitar.

Rufus came on dressed as a Christmas tree, throwing a drink all over himself in a slightly obscene gesture, before the band also come back on stage in Christmas garb (Justin in Santa hat and red lace skin tight cat suit, Frankie in a fat suit, Dan in a Christmas jumper). Maybe it's Omicron, but the audience don't seem to be up for joining in with the Wham song 'Last Christmas', but they perk right up when the band roll into 'Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)', complete with Crybaby solo and copious amounts of white confetti which emulated swirling snow.

As always it was an entertaining show and much needed escapism right now. The band just timed the tour right to finish as the UK hurtles towards another potential lockdown; they just managed to Rock and Roll under the metaphorical closing garage door. I would have gone to the second night as well had I not been invited to Ginger's Birthday Bash. The Darkness are a band I would happily see twice on the run. Always worth the effort, you can rely on them pulling out the stops. Let's hope it's not another two years before we can see them again.

Dawn Osborne

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