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Live Review and Photo Gallery: The Darkness at The Vic Theatre • Chicago

| October 16, 2023

The Darkness

The Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL

Friday, October 13, 2023

Review and photos by Jeff Elbel

Bone-crunching guitar riffs, pop hooks, soaring falsetto melodies, cheeky lyrics, and dazzling solos were in ample supply on Friday as the Darkness visited the Vic Theatre to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album Permission to Land. The group performed every track from the album in addition to fan-favorite b-sides like the Queen-approved “Curse of the Tollund Man.”

Singer and guitarist Justin Hawkins appeared in a flamboyant jumpsuit and engaged the crowd with sharp humor. During “Get Your Hands Off of My Woman,” he singled out an attendee named Billy for not participating in the song’s “repetition exercise,” cajoling him into a one-on-one opportunity for call-and-response falsetto profanity. The fan passed the personalized test with a surprising aplomb.

The band was in fine form. Dan Hawkins stood in his uniform of jeans, black leather jacket, and Thin Lizzy t-shirt while playing meaty rhythm guitar riffs for songs like the AC/DC-styled “Black Shuck” and biting solos on others including “Love is Only a Feeling.” Drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor filled the evening with bombastic and skillful drumming. Frankie Poullain wore a shimmering red, blue, and gold suit while anchoring songs on bass and joining Dan Hawkins on harmony vocals for songs like “How Dare You Call This Love.”

High-octane highlights included tracks like bouncing riff-rocker “Stuck in a Rut.” Hawkins coaxed the crowd into a sea of waving hands during the tragicomic “Holding My Own.” The entire set list was derived from Permission to Land and tracks of its era. Lesser-known b-sides like “Makin’ Out” are currently available on the expanded anniversary release Permission to Land … Again. The lone outlier was a cover of Radiohead’s plaintive “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” rendered by the Darkness as a galloping metal track in the style of Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills.”

The main set concluded with the band’s hit single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” but not before Justin Hawkins requested a moment of pure communion. “The only way to remain mythological is to have mystique,” he said. “We don’t need a thousand different perspectives of the same song on YouTube.” As a parting shot, he added, “Don’t film it for those ***** that couldn’t be bothered to come.” The band earned a roaring response for the song, and not a single cell phone was in sight.

The Darkness returned for an encore looking like they’d taken quick showers, wearing bathrobes, slippers, and in Poullain’s case, silk pajama shorts. The band played the hilarious but supple R&B crooner “I Love You 5 Times” before Justin Hawkins made an announcement the audience was not eager to accept. “Okay, my lovelies, this will be the last song of the evening,” said Hawkins to cries of dismay. “But fear not, I shall perform a whole song wearing only my underpants.” The band stretched “Love on the Rocks with No Ice” to epic length as Hawkins, indeed in his skivvies, rode on the shoulders of a security guard through the room while tackling an extended guitar solo. Upon returning to the stage, Hawkins was visibly delighted upon kicking a tossed guitar pick from his bare foot and successfully catching it mid-song.

As the band walked off, Dan Hawkins and Poullain flung the last of their picks to the crowd. Justin Hawkins grabbed a pick from the stage with his toes and extended it to an enthusiastic fan in the front row, who took the pick and kissed Hawkins’ foot in return.

The concert was full of such symbols of mutual affection (and obsession) between band and audience. Hawkins responded to frequent calls of “I love you” by responding warmly in kind. “I love all of you,” he explained at one point. “This is a polyamorous thing.”

The Darkness continues to rebuild a devoted audience through word of mouth, commitment to studio and road work, and consistently delivering evenings filled with collective excellence and a sense of fun. The band lost early momentum during a long hiatus following sophomore album One Way Ticket to Hell … and Back, during which Justin Hawkins worked on his health and sobriety (something he referred to before strutting his way through rock stomper “Giving Up”). The band has released five albums since 2012’s Hot Cakes and coalesced around the lineup featuring Taylor’s powerful drumming. In 2021, the band released the well-received Motorheart.


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