So there’s apparently a saying about expectations and reality and them mutually exclusive, but that was proven utter bunk when I finally got to witness The Darkness recently at a sold-out 9:30 Club.
The Darkness spectacularly exceeded expectations, even though I had been waiting to see the band from Lowestoft, England — narrowly missing them at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live a few years back — for, well, decades as the band has been celebrating the release of their debut, Permission to Land, 20 years ago.
Although they’ve been massively huge in the UK, you can still see The Darkness in medium-sized clubs, like the 9:30 Club, here in the USAS. It’s like finding a gold doubloon amongst your change to be able to see this band with the kind of energy and magic you can only get from a sweaty, crowded club.
In 2021, Justin Hawkins, lead singer / guitarist of The Darkness, started a podcast, titled “Justin Hawkins Rides Again,” where he comments on new music or artists. During one recent video, Hawkins waxed on about this band, Paris Monster, saying at one point they should be taking over the entire world. So, I was already keen on seeing them open for The Darkness at 9:30 Club on Oct. 22, but they were better than I expected (see what I mean about expectations?). The two-piece, unassumingly took the stage at the 9:30 Club but immediately won me over. I have to admit being in a bit of a ruffled mood before the show started but after a handful of songs I was smiling along with the rest of the packed venue.
The Darkness followed with, what can accurately be described as, a proper, f***ing rock show.
From the ABBA intro of “Arrival” to when Justin, Dan Hawkins (guitar), Frankie Poullain (bass) and Rufus Taylor (drums) took the stage and proceeded to show us how it’s done there was no slowing down.
Within the first few songs, Justin Hawkins had done a handstand, reached out across the stage barricade to sing to fans, and had gotten one fan to take off the bootleg Darkness shirt he had been wearing, put it on himself before giving said shirt back. In fact, Hawkins had no qualms about speaking directly to the audience. From the fan with a…, erm, not-so-official Darkness t-shirt to letting one fella chat it up via Hawkins’s microphone about coming to the show from Tennessee 18 years after first seeing the band at the 9:30 Club, Hawkins and the rest of the band seemed to genuinely relish the experience.
Having an artist that can joke around so directly with the crowd is not only fun but it makes the whole evening like a big party. You feel invited to something special, and it certainly felt special. Although there were a smattering of cell phones held high to catch snippets of songs like the massive hit from Permission to Land, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” the vast majority of those in attendance were more apt to pump their fists in the air and sing along.
While most of the setlist was dedicated to Permission, there were some other surprises. “Let’s do some metal,” Justin Hawkins told the crowd before charging into one of the best covers of a Radiohead song, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” — totally transforming it into a soaring rocker à la Iron Maiden.
Watch the official music video of “Stuck In A Rut [Live at the Astoria 2003]“ by The Darkness on YouTube:
And it wasn’t just the band who were engaged, this sold-out crowd sang just as hard. As Hawkins started singing, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…,” the crowd continued the verse in unison “dancing on a Friday night.” As the acapella intro ended the band kicked into “Friday” as Hawkins stretched out his mic to the packed house.
In a set full of highlights, one of the biggest was when The Darkness brought out Josh Dion and Geoff Kraly of Paris Monster to perform “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” And a close second was the band returning to the stage dressed in bathrobes to perform “I Love You 5 Times” and “Love on the Rocks With No Ice.”
Although The Darkness have wrapped up their USA tour with this stop in DC, they continue touring in Europe. But that’s not the end with a documentary to run “one night only” on Nov. 9 in the UK, called “Welcome To The Darkness.” Visit the band’s website for more details.
The set list included:
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
Growing On Me
The Best of Me
Love Is Only a Feeling
Curse of the Tollund Man
Stuck In a Rut
How Dare You Call This Love?
Street Spirit (Fade Out) (Radiohead cover)
Holding My Own
I Believe In a Thing Called Love
I Love You 5 Times
Love On the Rocks With No Ice
Here are more photos of The Darkness performing at the 9:30 Club on Oct. 22, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.
And here are photos of Paris Monster opening for The Darkness at the 9:30 Club.