The Darkness: HMV Picture House, Edinburgh, 9 November 2011
Yes, they're back - Justin, Dave, Frankie and Ed - and on Wednesday in Edinburgh it was as though they'd never been away.
There were two supports. I missed the name of the first, who were an American grunge quartet who could best be described in Douglas Adams's memorable phrase as "mostly harmless". The second, though, were totally unmissable in every sense. Foxy Shazam, the band whose name appears to have been picked for its scoring potential in Scrabble, erupted onto the stage and blew us all away. How can I describe them? Well, think of Madness at their zaniest, but playing loud punk and fronted by a singer channelling Freddie Mercury. One should mention their trumpeter, who has a great line in throwing and catching his instrument, and the keyboardist who is bald and has a dense Islamic beard: imagine one of the cast of "Four Lions" playing a keyboard with Pete Townsend-style windmilling (and at one point getting the crowd to hold his keyboard for him). They were totally insane and utterly wonderful: ten out of ten to whoever booked them as support.
Then it was time for The Darkness. As usual, their entrance was preceded by a playing of "Arrival" by Abba, giving way to a stonking version of "Black Shuck". OK, they've scaled down their act now they're not playing stadia, but the pyrotechnics are still very impressive. Justin now sports a beard and his hair is shaggy rather than long and flowing (I've seen it described as the Catweazle look, which is a bit cruel), and he starts the evening in normal clothes, gradually shedding bits until about halfway through the set he reappears in a pink and white catsuit (in case we thought he'd abandoned them altogether). He changed into another catsuit later on: oh, and he has even more tattoos now. Whereas on the first two gigs I saw he took his guitar on a tour of the audience via an overhead railway affair (first time he rode in a white tiger, second time in a gigantic pair of breasts), this time he simply clambered onto the back of a security man and was carried aloft into the audience. So we got to touch the man himself (well, that's me free of scrofula for a few years) and my son high-fived him in passing: harder to do when he's forty feet up in a pair of tits.
Musically they were as tight as ever. the reason I loved The Darkness originally wasn't the glam, it was the musicality: like Marc Bolan but less deceased. They were clearly having the time of their lives on this tour, working their socks off but loving every minute. They dedicated one number to Frankie's Mum who was in the audience (though I didn't spot her), and in the smaller venue were able to get a real rapport going with the crowd.
So what did we get? Well, the whole of "Permission to Land" for starters, and some more recent hits and B-sides (including their Christmas single, which pleased me greatly). Several new songs which seem to be well up to the old standard, and a couple of cover versions. Nor are they afraid to mess around with their heritage: the version of "Holding My Own" we got was a Justin Hawkins unplugged solo. It would have been a tremendous gig under any circumstances: as a comeback it was impressive indeed.
Here's the full setlist:
Growing On Me
Best Of Me
One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back!
Nothing's Gonna Stop Us
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
Out Of This World
Holding My Own
Love Is Only A Feeling
Is It Just Me?
Street Spirit (Radiohead cover)
Stuck In A Rut
Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)
Bareback / Tie Your Mother Down (Queen cover)
I Believe In A Thing Called Love
Love On The Rocks With No Ice