The Darkness. Monroe’s Live, Galway, 13 March 2015.
Midway through an Irish tour that culminates in both Saint Patrick's day celebrations, and the birthday of front man Justin Hawkins, The Darkness arrived in the west of the country in Galway for a night of high voltage rock and roll entertainment.
Ireland is no stranger to visiting international acts using its venues to break in new material or as a warm up for further activity. In 2007, R.E.M road tested tracks from their forthcoming ‘Accelerate’ album with a week of shows at the intimate – well, for a band of R.E.M’s stature – Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Back in 1986, it was Def Leppard who chose to go on a nationwide tour of some of the most unlikely venues in the country, in the run up to their defining, post-Rick Allen car accident appearance at Donington’s ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival. Taking their cues from the Sheffield five-piece then, The Darkness have opted for a similar strategy, by way of introducing new drummer Emily Dolan Davies.
Midway through an Irish tour that has already seen them perform in a number of far-flung towns as well as play a gig on one of the country’s tiniest Islands, tonight the Lowestoft band were back on the mainland, in the intimate confines of Monroe’s Tavern in Galway City. With the feel of a traditional Irish pub, the place was bursting with both atmosphere and attendees by the time the band’s intro tape – appropriately Thin Lizzy ‘The Boys Are Back In Town – rolled. Bathed in crimson and entering to a dramatic, marauding, film soundtrack-esque score, as frontman Justin Hawkins embraced the front rows like a returning messiah, the band launched in to latest single ‘Barbarian’. The frankly ludicrous song that has recently been nominated by Classic Rock magazine as ‘the best song anyone's ever written ever', is up there with The Darkness’ best material, and tonight it went down a storm.
It was followed by the falsetto impossible of ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ that saw Hawkins conducting the crowd in a serious of a cappella ‘mutha’s, with uproarious comic results. With his more outrageous direction finally falling apart, he knowingly asked; “been drinking?” to approving applause. Following with an explosive ‘Growing On Me’, the already party atmosphere took to a whole new level. As a front man, with his writhing, heavily tattooed lithe body, and Freddy Mercury style prancing and preening, it really is difficult to take your eyes off Justin Hawkins. However, each band member got their turn in the spotlight, from bassist Frankie Poullain arming himself with a cowbell and taking centre stage for ‘One Way Ticket To Hell And Back’, to guitarist Ed Hawkins’ sporadic soloing. Even Dolan Davies came out from behind her kit, simply to announce her name, while the others knelt in respect before her.
As the night continued, the majority of the band’s set was filled with songs from their debut smash hit album ‘Permission To Land’. A crowd-participation heavy ‘Love Is Only a Feeling’ was followed by a crushing ‘Black Shuck’, and later an expletive-riddled ‘Givin’ Up’. With the audience singing along to every word, Hawkins proclaimed; “It’s nice to be front of an audience who know the songs”. A surprisingly effective, high octane, speed rock cover of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ meanwhile, slotted effortlessly into the set.
With the night nearing an end, donning a hat snatched from someone in the front row, the singer surveyed the crowd and proclaimed; “the man from Del Monte looked upon Galway, and he said yes!” Launching into set closer ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, the already euphoric atmosphere reached fever pitch. As set highlight, it was difficult to follow, however the band still had a particularly appropriate encore up their sleeve. Arriving back on stage with an electric ‘Every Inch Of You’, they closed the night what else, but ‘Friday Night’. “Emily’s never played it”, warned Hawkins, however following a flawless rendition, it was clear that it was the perfect set closer.
In a city known for music and ‘craic’, tonight Galway had it in spades, with a performance by a band that perfectly encapsulated the word ‘fun’. Too often unfairly maligned as a ‘comedy’ rock outfit, it was great to be reminded of what a superb catalogue of songs The Darkness have. With the release of new album ‘Last Of Our Kind’ due on 1st June, it looks like the band are back on top form. Permission to land? Not when you’re this out of this world.
By Eamon O'Neill.
First published on gigsandfestivals.co.uk, 16 March 2015.