Tag Archives: Frankie Poullian

The Darkness at The Summit Music Hall 10/16/2015

I still remember hearing The Darkness for the first time 12 years ago. Their first, and best known single, “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” was all over the radio and the music video was a big deal at the time, too. Actually, I think that was the last time I saw a really cool music video on MTV.  The Darkness belong to a bygone era of rock music, which is probably why I love them so much. An era of huge hooks and killer guitar riffs. I’ve been following the band’s career through lineup switches, break-ups, and changes in facial hair…and in 12 years they’ve never let me down. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t worried about the band delivering the goods live. I’d read online that the band was great live, but I was still unprepared for just how good The Darkness are live.

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I got to the Summit Music Hall early, like I usually do, and my first impression was “Jesus, this place is small.” I realize that America is no longer a bastion of rock fans, but even I was shocked at what a tiny venue the band was playing. Overseas, The Darkness headline big music festivals and are a bit of rock royalty…here in my home State of Colorado they were just thin dudes in funny clothes playing a club show. I’m grateful that I got to see this band up-close and personal, but if there were any justice in the world we’d have been at the enormous Pepsi Center across town. My friend Dylan, also a huge Darkness fan, shared this sentiment upon seeing the size of the room the band was playing.

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Something weird happened to the opening band and a local band In The Whale filled-in. In The Whale was a noisy two-piece that reminded me of Death From Above 1979 with a dash of rockabilly. As is usually the case with two-piece bands, the sound they made was mostly noise. They had a couple of songs that weren’t awful, but at no point were my friends and I compelled to leave the bar area. When The Darkness hit the stage Dylan and I were ready to rock, primed with beer and free Strongbow (a sickeningly sweet-variant of hard cider). The band opened with “Barbarian” off their latest album LAST OF OUR KIND (you can read my review of that here). Front man Justin Hawkins strutted out onto the stage in a weird stripy catsuit-thingy. Shirtless and covered in tattoos, Hawkins had a Jagger-ish quality to his stage presence which kinda surprised me because I always mentally compare him to Freddie Mercury (for obvious reasons). Justin’s brother, lead guitarist Dan Hawkins, was downright normal by comparison with his mane of rocker curls and tight Thin Lizzy t-shirt. Bassist Frankie Poullain won hands down for most-interesting/I-can’t-stop-staring-at-you with his massive puff of frizzy hair, New Wave-ish business suit, and Hell’s Angels facial hair. Meanwhile the band’s current drummer, Rufus Tiger Taylor, did an adequate job but didn’t really stand out.

Look at that hair, glorious!

Look at that hair, glorious!

The band barreled though a set list of tracks skewing heavily towards the band’s first album PERMISSION TO LAND with key tracks from the other three albums sprinkled throughout. At the mid-point of the show, Justin invited a slightly middle age looking couple onto the stage because they were getting married the next day. Or so they claimed, I’m always skeptical of these kind of people. Justina and Co. got them comfy and then proceeded to serenade them with “Get Your Hands Off My Woman.” This was an amusing choice because, in case you aren’t aware, the song is peppered generously throughout with “motherfuckers.” I’m sure that glorious moment will be retold for decades to come by this happy couple, perhaps to coca-sipping grandchildren.

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Pretty much any Darkness song you’d want to hear the band played (though they did not play the one song I yearned to hear “Keep Me Hanging On” off the third album). Songs like the super-appropriate “Friday Night,” “One Way Ticket,” and “Love Is Only A Feeling” were all played with propulsive precision. Sometimes seeing your favorite band play your favorite tracks live is a bit underwhelming, but The Darkness’ charm and musicianship were high and at no time did I find myself thinking this is cool and all, but it sounded much better on the album. A roadie was constantly shuffling on stage to bring Justin a Gibson guitar, only to return once his guitar bit of the song was over so he could bop across the stage unencumbered. The spastic lead singer actually sat down for two songs to play keyboard, which I wasn’t expecting.

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Yes, the band played “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and they didn’t save it for the encore, like I was expecting. I’ve heard this song more times than I can count, and to be honest, I would have been 100% fine not hearing it live. But it was rad hearing it live and feeling the crowd’s energy during this classic number. Usually when I leave a really good concert, I find myself in love with a song that I wasn’t as big a fan of prior to hearing it live. To this day, I absolutely love “Tumbling Dice” by the Rolling Stones, a song I had no real feelings for prior to witnessing the band play live on The Bigger Bang tour a decade ago. Well that Darkness song is “Love On The Rocks With No Ice,” which popped up during the encore. I am still catching myself humming this tune two days later!

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Also worth mentioning: the band played one NEW song about 2/3’s of the way through the show. It was a great song, though I didn’t catch the name of it at the time (ringing ears and all). A quick check online reveals this song to be titled “Rack of Glam.” If this track is any indication of what might be on the next album, then I think we have another great album on the horizon. Though there wasn’t as much stage banter as I’d have thought, there were a couple of great moments (besides dragging the couple on stage). The audience was really into crowd surfing, and near the end of the show, Justin surfed out into the audience and climbed up onto the balcony. Watching Justin dive back into the crowd mere feet away was definitely my top rock moment of 2015.

Up close and slightly personal.

Up close and slightly personal.

Bottom line: I’d see them again, right now if I could. It’s rare these days to see a band that’s able to be both awesome sounding and off-the-wall fun live. The Darkness put on one hell of a show…truly they are the last of their kind.

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THE LAST OF OUR KIND by The Darkness

Let me get this out of the way: THE LAST OF OUR KIND is hands-down my favorite album to come out so far in 2015. Not that there’s been much really good rock music released this year. Still, even if there had a few more notable releases this year, I’m confident this album would still be a beacon of hope. The Darkness are back and better than they’ve ever been.If you like boisterous, 1970’s-style rock full of cocky-swagger that’s fun/catchy as hell…then The Darkness is your band. Many people, most people I’d wager, really only remember the band from their hit “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” from 2003’s PERMISSION TO LAND. To those people I say: get bigger record collections. Seriously. The band’s second album ONE WAY TICKET TO HELL…AND BACK was a staggeringly leap forward in my opinion. The songs were better, the hooks were way catchier than the first record, and lead singer Justin Hawkins amazing vocal prowess truly shined. The band then went through a period of darkness (pun intended) when Hawkins left the band and went into rehab.

This baby pilot has permission to land.

This baby pilot has permission to land.

But The Darkness returned in 2012 with their third album HOT CAKES. That record (you can read my review here) was another homerun for the band.  That they’ve never really let me down is both kind of amazing and little scary every time the band releases a new record. The turmoil surrounding them this go-round involved their drummer (I call this AC/DC Syndrome). First, long time drummer Ed Graham left the band in September 2014 and was replaced by Emily Dolan Davies (whom you can read about/ogle here). A lady drummer in The Darkness? How positively progressive! Alas, it wasn’t meant to be…and Emily left the band in April of this year citing a desire to work on “other projects.” So while Davies is on THE LAST OF OUR KIND, The Darkness have a new drummer in the form of Rufus Taylor. That’s right, the band that sound more than a little like Queen went out and got the son of Queen’s drummer to be in their band. So there was definitely some rock star shenanigans and/or drama surrounding the band while they were recording THE LAST OF OUR KIND. Does any of that make it onto the record? Nope, not in the slightest.

THE LAST OF OUR KIND opens with the sounds of the ocean and an old man reciting a poem about Vikings before the opening guitar riff of “Barbarian” hits. This is important because the album has a very strong Norse/Viking theme running throughout. Now while I wouldn’t go so far as to call THE LAST OF OUR KIND a concept album, there is a definite thread tying all the songs together. And that thread is kick-ass Norse warriors.“Barbarian” is pretty much The Darkness’ version of “The Immigrant Song.” Though whereas Led Zeppelin’s song is an ethereal chant, “Barbarian” is the rowing song of bloodthirsty men on their way to plunder foreign shores. While the first track conjures the spirit of the mighty Zep, the second track “Open Fire” definitely calls forth The Cult. It’s really just the guitar effect the band is using, but this has torpedoed many fans’ opinion of the song (which is the album’s second single). I’ll admit to being less-than-enthusiastic about the track the first few times I heard it, but it’s been growing on me (pun intended) the more I listen to it.

After this pic was snapped both the lady drummer AND the bird quit the band.

After this pic was snapped both the lady drummer AND the bird quit the band.

The album’s title track is probably the most Darkness-y track on the album. “The Last of Our Kind” is jam packed with Hawkin’s trademark faux-falsetto* and lyrical bravado. On the surface, the song is both a celebration and a lamentation about Norse warriors—but we all know that the song is also about The Darkness and their place in the modern rock scene. The track features some really great use of guitar harmonies that reminds me of Thin Lizzy. Not to let the ladies down, THE LAST OF OUR KIND also has a couple of really good love songs. For example,“Wheels of the Machine” which is a very cock-rock style love song featuring a lot of tough fire/burning imagery (tough love).  The song is notable for mentioning the object of Hawkins affections is named Sarah. This is important because the most kick-ass song on the entire record is “Sarah O’Sarah.” That song opens with some of the most propulsive guitar I’ve ever heard. I love big sloppy love songs and “Sarah O’Sarah” is pretty great. Lyrically it’s dopey (and again features lots of burning/fire references) but I like how vulnerable and straightforward the words are. Similarly, “Hammer & Tongs**” has a joyful we’re-back-together-and-that’s-how-it-should-be vibe that’s a refreshing change from most love songs in the arena rock genre/wheelhouse. Also, let me point out that this song again features really heavy usage of fire and burning imagery. Weird***.

Other tracks worth mentioning are the arena-ready anthem “Conquerors”  and “Mudslide.” The former closes out the album and features bass player Frankie Poullian on lead vocals.“Conquerors” surprised me and makes me wonder what great albums we’re missing out on from a Poullain-fronted band. Meanwhile, “Mudslide” which is the only track co-written by Emily Dolan Davies,  has a nice Bonham-esque quality (read: steady, thumping drums). Man, it’s a bummer that Davies ended up leaving the band.

THE LAST OF OUR KIND is definitely a throwback to a bygone era. Back when rock bands (and their album sales) were much, much bigger. Though they aren’t nearly as popular as they were at the height of PERMISSION TO LAND’s initial success, The Darkness continue to bravely churn out records that are top-to-bottom fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I actually purchased an album—after hearing THE LAST OF OUR KIND I immediately hopped online and bought a physical copy. I also can’t recall the last time a band put out a record that I could listen to multiple times without skipping a track. And that brings me to my only complaint/quibble about THE LAST OF OUR KIND: it’s way to short. With only ten songs and a total running time of 41 minutes, the album feels like it’s over too quickly. So while there’s no fat on the album and I praise it for not having any skip-able tracks, I do feel bummed every time the final song “Conquerors” comes to a close. I guess if I had to pick between a good album that’s long and great one that’s a bit on the short-side, I’d pick the short one every time. So, here I am in June with my pick for album of the year: THE LAST OF OUR KIND.

 

 

 

 

 

 
*The first draft of this review (yes, I know could you imagine how terrible these posts are BEFORE I edit them?) referred to Hawkins’ vocal style as a “falsetto.” This apparently isn’t true. Though I really don’t understand why it isn’t, here is a tweet from the man himself:

Feel free to explain this to me in the comments.

Feel free to explain this to me in the comments.

**Hammer & Tongs is a euphemism generally meaning “energetically, enthusiastically, or with great vehemence.” So there ya go, you learn something new every day.

***I really didn’t notice just how much fire/burning/flame imagery THE LAST OF OUR KIND had until I sat down to write this review. Seriously: “Open Fire,””Wheels of the Machine,” “Sarah O’Sarah,” and “Hammer & Tongs” all do this. It’s almost like a lyrical tic. 

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