The Darkness haven’t always had a happy relationship with Dublin. State saw them in 2003 when they were (un)fortunate enough to be chosen as support act for Metallica in the RDS. The thousand or so hardcore Metallica fans who had queued since very early morning to be in the pit were less than impressed with these new kids on the block and did not hesitate to display their disapproval with boos and projectiles. Tonight is a very different story in the Olympia, ten years on. Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ blasts from the PA, followed by ‘We are the Hawkins Brothers’; a lyrical mini-biographical of the British hard rock band formed in Lowestoft in 2000. The four members appear onstage, standing motionless, hand-in-hand; soaking up the pre-emptive cheers and applause from the fanatical audience.
Front man and Movember advocate Justin Hawkins is sporting a handlebar ‘tache, a wet-dog hairstyle and wearing his trademark nothing-to-the-imagination body suit, open to the waist revealing his tattoos and nipple rings. Joining him front-of-stage are his little brother Dan, wearing his customary Thin Lizzy t-shirt, and Frankie Poullain who bears more than a passing resemblance to Phil Lynott with his afro and moustache. Their appreciation for the seventies Irish rockers is certainly shared by plenty of fans tonight.
Starting their set with ‘She Just a Girl, Eddie’ from their 2012 come-back album Hot Cakes, they spend the first forty minutes mostly playing tracks from that and their second record; neither of which achieved the overwhelming success of their debut. A surprisingly familiar galloping riff has fans double-taking each other, as the band launch into an impressively entertaining cover of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’. While there is eager participation from the audience for the first part of the show, it pales in comparison to the reaction to what is yet to come.
The stage is plunged into darkness [yes; I did it!], and a spoken-word intro announces the imminent performance of Permission To Land from start to finish. The narrator quotes Wikipedia informing the audience of the 1.3 million copies sold in the UK alone, and the group’s rocket to fame in the early noughties. Returning to the stage after a costume change (albeit into a different jumpsuit for Justin), the familiar chart-topping hits have the crowd singing along at the top of their lungs. As Justin hits those ridiculously high-pitched notes in ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman”, one can’t help question whether he is lip-syncing, but he does indeed appear to be pulling off a pitch-perfect performance (if that’s the correct way to describe the comical vocals on the album). As the crowd clap along to the track, he does his parlour trick of performing a handstand in front of drummer Ed Graham while clapping his legs. Encouraging the audience to sing along to the final expletive, he prompts booing by informing the crowd that the Belfast crowd the previous night were louder. “Here’s your chance to be better than Belfast” he taunts them. “Of course I’m just coercing you into being a better audience than you really are” he confesses.
Picking on a member of the audience in one of the Olympia’s elite private boxes, Hawkins likens his bored appearance to that of Auguste Rodin’s “Thinker” sculpture. He climbs the speaker stack to personally hand him a guitar pick. During ‘Love on the Rocks’ the band are carried around the venue on the shoulders of roadies while continuing to sing and play. There is plenty of ass-grabbing from the women, and men, in the crowd. To be fair, Hawkins only has himself to blame after his persistent flamboyant shenanigans onstage throughout the show. Once back onstage, the singer picks up a monitor speaker and carries it like an eighties ghetto-blaster, remarking “this is great if you love the sound of your own voice… Which of course I do!”. With just one track left to perform, he (in)appropriately reaches into his jump suit to “adjust himself” before launching into their tribute to manly self-love, ‘Holding my Own’.
Despite owing the audience nothing after treating them to such a lengthy and well-received setlist, their requests for “one More Tune” are not only granted but encouraged as the band jam along to the dreaded “Ole, ole, ole” chants which erupt. Another costume change into some festive garb, and the finale of their yuletide hit ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’ beneath red and green spotlights brings the performance to an end. It’s a wise choice to pander to the majority of fans who came to the Olympia to relive decade-old memories and, if this means The Darkness have resigned themselves to the status of nostalgia act, that’s fine by us.
Photo: Olga Kuzmenko