The Darkness, The Astoria, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

I had watched The Darkness phenomenon from a distance, in dismay. Despite the sheer unexpectedness of their vault from clubs to stadiums, every glance at their ridiculous, sub-Queen videos and apparently unexceptional songs made them seem like some kind of prank - a substanceless hype perpetrated by snottily amused music journalists, lowering themselves to like a ropy Metal band, in the spirit of Spinal Tap. Maybe that is how the media see The Darkness. But other people I know are supporting them with a hunger not far short of need, as if, for all their flaws, the band are giving pop something that has been desperately missed. During this sponsored return to the relatively cosy venue where they were signed, I surprisingly see the light, too.

It is not the music that wins me over. With the exception of the galloping, screeching pop song "Get Your Hands Off My Woman", it is mostly the sort of thunderous Metal I have never understood. But that is just a matter of taste, something The Darkness move far beyond. The first innovation that separates them from the old Metal herd is the shameless, soft femininity of singer Justin Hawkins. Stripping to the waist at the earliest opportunity, his boyishly slim, smooth body is matched by his giddy falsetto. With trouser adornments that seem to clutch his rear, and flaming tattoos rising from his groin, Metal's machismo is replaced by casually exposed availability, as if Hawkins is part star, part groupie. The number of happy young headbanging girls here shows how this broadens his crowd.

The second source of The Darkness's power is revealed when Hawkins dedicates "Friday Night" to anyone from their Suffolk home, Lowestoft - "or Newport". Any British town, in fact, where there is nothing to do but make your own entertainment, and where you need strength to leave. It is this background that has stripped The Darkness of self-importance, replacing it with good humour sometimes mistaken for mocking distance, and made them a band based in communal celebration. "Friday Night"'s Faces-like stomp shows the lineage of people's bands they have joined, filling a gap in today's charts so large they have been shoved to a status far beyond their talent.

When Hawkins is chaired round the venue by bouncers, parodying stardom while circling and including the crowd, it dramatises this bond. The nerve of his costume changes - pink and white open-chested jumpsuit, then a cloaked silver spaceman suit of lights - and the glitter showers and dry ice belches, even the way he squeezes every last drop from guitar notes, are all aspects of the unreserved good time on offer, the feeling of Friday night in Lowestoft, turned into a career.