Wanna feel old? Well, Permission To Land, the iconic debut album from The Darkness, is twenty years old. Yes, two decades. Zwanzig, vingt, veinte, venti, fiche, ni-juu. It’s the same in every language. Hard to believe, I know, but the good news is they were here in Dublin to celebrate every word and note of it.
3Olympia Theatre, Dublin – 3 December 2023
Words: Brian Boyle
Photography: Carl Foran
For hard rock and Heavy Metal fans who revelled in the glorious period of the ’80s, most will tell you the ’90s was, in comparison, complete dogshit. The decadent glamour was shown at the door, and the party was gatecrashed by a bunch who looked as miserable as a wet weekend in Wigan, a.k .a. the Grunge movement.
Then, in 2003, the light was turned back on again. Along came an explosive foursome from Lowestoft, who dropped a Glam loaded bomb on the UK singles chart with the full frontal effervescence of I Believe In A Thing Called Love. All of a sudden, rock ‘n’ roll was fun again.
It’s December, and Dublin is as cold as a witch’s tit. There are a few hard nuts. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. There are a few mad bastards in the queue who passed on the use of a jacket-type garment. But a jam-packed 1,600 in the splendour of the Olympia Theatre is enough to thaw out their frozen tootsies and blue nipples.
The bar is, as you would expect, a hive of activity, and at a quick glance, there are a few punters who looked like they were young enough to have been necking shots of gripe water when The Darkness first landed. And they most probably didn’t recognise the intro tape of Abba’s Arrival, which sent a bolt of excitement through the building.
A casual walk on was followed by the pure shock and awe of Black Shuck, which peppered the wide-eyed crowd good and proper.
As we all know, Justin Hawkins is not your average frontman. He is an explosive pic and mix of Jagger, Bolan and Mercury, eccentric, audacious and at times bloody hilarious.
But behind all that, he’s a bloody serious musician. He believes in living in the moment, hence why he gave an early warning on the use of mobile phones, and the rigged confiscation of someone’s blower, for the most part, was adhered to the majority of the night.
Wearing a sausage-squeezing red and black catsuit, Hawkins started to show his plumage big time on a skin-lifting Get Your Hands Off My Woman, where he displayed his impressive match fitness with a rather nifty head handstand.
Growing On Me and the Quo-esque The Best Of Me kept the early feel-good vibe ticking over nicely, then Dan Hawkins in his traditional everyman rock attire of classic Thin Lizzy t-shirt and biker jacket leathered out the riff to Givin’ Up. While this song is far from being about skipping through a field of daisies, the impending Monday morning and the songs overriding theme of “not givin’ a fuck” had the desired effect.
A song that made power ballads acceptable in the noughties, Love Is Only A Feeling, personally took years off me, and it still seems to mean as much to the band as it did to their adorning public tonight. Holding My Own did similar, with Hawkins’ delivery akin to a giant comfort blanket.
As much as the brothers Hawkins are the bands front of house, the shin-kicking rhythm of Rufus Tiger Taylor baiting the living shite out of his tubs and the dapper Frankie Poullain’s Gibson Thunderbird IV, also known as The Brown Bastard, provide the real muscle. On one of the night’s highlights, Stuck In A Rut, they ripped the doors clean off the hinges.
The endorphin releasing Friday Night was a joy to behold, a moment in the night you didn’t want to end, and what followed as good as topped it. The fitting tribute to the late Shane McGowan with a snippet of Fairytale Of New York couldn’t have been any more perfect and gushed with pure emotion. Hawkins didn’t have to do much except point the mic and let the Celtic choir singers do their thing.
Then on came the Santa hat and Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End), its blast of white confetti, kick-started some seasonal shenanigans.
Such is the range in Hawkins’ voice, he can more than get away with embarrassing Robert Plant by doing a killer take of Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song and still have enough in the tank to tear straight into I Believe In A Thing Called Love.
Although stopped abruptly to give out another warning on phone use, this only added extra spice to a walloping rendition of what is now one of the most prominent rock songs of all time.
Not many bands have the kahunas to do an encore in silk dressing gowns, paisley kimonos, satiny boxers and slippers. Well, The Darkness does. Not only that, they swap roles too. Dan Hawkins took to the drums, Taylor necked a pint of Guinness and tickled the bass, and Poullain strummed an acoustic and sipped a beverage of the small variety. Teetotaller Justin Hawkins tasted a Guinness zero and led them into a giddy I Love You 5 Times, and suddenly performing in fancy bedtime fashions looked perfectly normal.
Regular service resumed with closer Love On The Rocks With No Ice, with Taylor’s drums once again getting beaten black and blue, and Justin Hawkins now in just a skimpy pair of black y-fronts giving the Irish one last pummeling.
While another half hour would have been nice, this was still ninety minutes of pure release.
Better than sex? You can answer that one, but I was certainly in the mood for a cigarette and a cuddle afterwards—gig of the year.