The Darkness at First Avenue, 2/12/12

The Darkness
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Sunday, February 12, 2012

For a slideshow from the concert, click here.

Something about the Darkness band feels a little like Jurassic Park: Use the genetic code ripped from the monsters of rock and make it roar and stomp again, consequences be damned. The men in the band couldn't have been more than tykes when big hair and big riffs ruled the airwaves, but the golden age of hair metal must have bound itself to their DNA when they were kids. The sold-out crowd that sang every lyric back to them likely proved that they're far from alone in their appreciation.

Inside First Avenue, it was obvious that the show was supremely sold out; it was near impossible to move around without getting elbowed in the gut. The Darkness might have dipped out of the public consciousness for a second following a short-lived breakup, but their fans were eager to show their support, and they turned out by the droves for the band's Minneapolis appearance (hint: They'll be back again this summer). Deep down, the city must have a soft spot for guitar heroics and skin-tight catsuits.

The Darkness at First Avenue, 2/12/12
Photo by Stacy Schwartz

But before the Darkness could remind everyone that rock stars and codpieces are two things that can't remain separate forever, openers Foxy Shazam took their job warming up the packed crowd to a level usually reserved for headliners. Foxy's sleazed-up take on garage rock didn't need any flashy pyrotechnics -- the band flailed around as if possessed, rode around on each others' shoulders, smoked five cigarettes at once, and stomped on their instruments before dismissively dropping their guitars and strutting off stage. If the band was a little short on melodicism, they were certainly heavy on the attitude, a smarmy kind of charm that had the audience chanting for an encore that never came.

The disappointment switched to excitement as the lights went down and (after about 30 minutes and then blaring Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town") swelling strings and bagpipes signaled the beginning of the Darkness' set. The grandiose opening gave way to the muscular riffs of AC/DC homage and crowd favorite "Black Shuck," causing 100 beers to be raised in boozy appreciation. Frontman Justin Hawkins lost the fresh-faced look he was sporting when the band blew up in 2003, but wasted no time busting out his trademark crystal-shattering falsetto.

The band burned through some of the best tracks on debut Permission To Land ("Black Shuck," "Growing On Me," and "Get Your Hands Off My Woman," along with B-side "The Best of Me"), leaving the second half of the set a little deflated, despite the late appearance of "Friday Night."

(Video by Doug Falken)

Still, Hawkins and his brother Dan effortlessly played the part of guitar gods,  tossing off fret-climbing solos and faux-classic riffs. Their interplay was a real highlight, a showcase of the instrumental talent in the group.

Even with the guitar fireworks, the band's full-tilt approach started to wear a bit thin after a huge two-hour set that spanned almost their entire catalog.  The casual fans started to get a little restless waiting to hear "I Believe In A Thing Called Love," and Hawkins' lead-up to the band's biggest felt a little tedious.  Still, the sheer rock joy in "Thing Called Love" is enough to win almost anyone over.

Overall, rock 'n' roll fans prevailed tonight, and most of them will be feeling it this morning.

Critic's bias: Loved the first album by The Darkness but was disappointed in their second. Live show was worth it. 

The crowd: Drunk. Very drunk.

Overheard in the crowd: "Waiting for The Darkness to come on was like the end of Lord Of The Rings."

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