Tag Archives: Thin Lizzy

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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Dancing In The BLOODMOONlight with Van Morrison, King Harvest, and Thin Lizzy

I’m sure I’ve bragged about it before, but I have a near-supernatural ability to recall the names of songs. When driving together, I frequently drive my wife nuts playing the “what song is this?” game. She hates it. She never knows the name of the song. Unlike me, she didn’t fill her head with useless musical trivia and is unable to name both the song title and artist (and sometimes even the album) to every random classic rock castaway. I bring this up because recently, I was wrong. And though I come across like a smug professor, I actually really enjoy the (albeit rare) occasions where I do not recognize a song or artist. I sometimes feel like Alexander The Great, sitting alone with no more worlds to conquer. When a new/old song hits my radar I feel the thrill of discovery I’ve mostly lost while listening to classic rock radio**.

Which is why my world was recently turned upside down by Pandora recently with “Dancing in the Moonlight.” First of all, please don’t confuse this song with the fantastic Thin Lizzy song “Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In It’s Spotlight)” off their classic 1977 album BAD REPUTATION. No, I’m talking about the hit single from 1972 released by Van Morrison. At least, I always thought this was a Van Morrison song. But I was wrong. “Dancing In The Moonlight” does have a very ‘70s Van Morrison-ish vibe and would have fit nicely on Van Morrison’s classic album MOONDANCE (though it came out two years later). In fact, I attribute my own person confusion to “Moondance.” Sure, I guess it was weird to think that Van Morrison had two moon-themed songs during this time period, but I’ve always found the guy kinda strange. Anyway, I was wrong: “Dancing In The Moonlight” is actually a King Harvest song. What a silly mistake, right?

"Everything is serious and sad"

“Everything is serious and sad”

So who the hell was King Harvest? Well the reason why I’d never really heard of them (and you probably haven’t either) is that they were one-hit wonders. That one-hit being “Dancing In The Moonlight.” According to a quick Internet search, the band was formed in Paris, France by a group of Americans. The brother of the their drummer, a guy named Sherman Kelly, wrote the song in 1969. I think that’s a pretty cool story: guy writes song, gives it to his brother’s band, they have their one-hit. Everybody wins. Except for me, the guy who 43 years later is walking around thinking it’s a damn Van Morrison song.

Besides the obvious references to the moon, both songs share a similar jazzy feel. King Harvest’s lead singer, Dave Robinson, is a very fine vocalist and shares enough similarities to further compound the confusion. Though to be honest, a real Van Morrison fan would instantly spot the difference as I did when I listened to both songs back-to-back (800 times while writing this post). The production on the ’72 released “Dancing In The Moonlight” is scratchier and masks Robinson’s voice in a way that (at least to me) does make him sound like a younger Van Morrison. I’m assuming “Moondance” sounds better because a superstar recorded it with a superstar’s recording budget. Perhaps I could have avoided all this confusion had someone just spent a little more money. I’m looking at you, King Harvest.

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Listening to all three songs, I think that King Harvest’s song is more akin to Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing In The Moonlight” in that it’s a simple, joyous ode to hanging out late at night, dancing. Van Morrison’s song is more complex and has 100% more saxophone. Also, because it’s Van Morrison, the track is fun but in a really stuffy, intellectual way.

It better look JUST like this...

It better look JUST like this…

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now and tonight’s blood moon phenomenon got me thinking about this mix-up. I know I’m crazy, but am I crazy in regards to this mix-up? What songs have you wrongly attributed to other artists? I’m sure that this happens all the time to music fans. Please share you semi-embarrassing gaffs below in the comments (unless you’re gonna tell me about how you were confused by Steelers Wheel “Stuck In The Middle With You,” everybody thought that was Dylan).

 

**Sure, I like listening to a lot of new music, but classic rock 1959-1985 will always be my specialty.

 

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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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Classic Albums Revisited: SOLO IN SOHO

A lot of people have the wrong impression of Thin Lizzy.  They weren’t the dunder-headed hard rockers that people think they were.  Thin Lizzy were rockers with heart.  And that heart came from lead-singer/songwriter Philip Lynott.  When a songwriter is dubbed a “poet,” I can’t help but think of doilies and Shakespeare…the truth this, a poet is someone who can take complex feelings and distill them in way just about everyone can understand.  It’s more than just pretty words.  I can write about love and explain it to you, but only a true poet will be able to not only describe love but also convey the feeling of love.  Phil Lynott was a poet and there was nothing stupid or dunder-headed about his work.

Thin Lizzy exploded when they released JAILBREAK in 1976.  They’d been doing their thing for a while but it was that album that put them on the map with songs like “Running Back,” “The Cowboy Song,” and of course “The Boys Are Back In Town.”  That last song in particular doomed Thin Lizzy by both setting their expected level of commercial success higher than the band could ever reach again while also providing Thin Lizzy with the means to indulge their bad habits*.  Just before Thin Lizzy called it quits, Lynott started his solo career.  His first album, SOLO IN SOHO, was released in 1980.  I think the album is a both astonishingly diverse and heartbreakingly sincere.

NOUN: A thing done by one person unaccompanied, in particular.

The first song, “Dear Miss Lonely Hearts” sounds like it would fit nicely on just about any Thin Lizzy album (which makes sense considering that Lynott’s backing band consisted of most of Thin Lizzy, along with Mark Knopfler from The Dire Straits, and oddly enough Huey Lewis on harmonica).  I really like this song, which is an awesome rocker about a guy who writes an advice columnist when he falls in love with his girlfriend’s sister.  As trashy and, frankly ridiculous, as that sounds “Dear Miss Lonely Hearts” doesn’t come off silly at all.  Lynott switches perspective back and forth during the song from the author of the letter and the titular “Miss Lonely Hearts.”  The ever complex and sensitive Lynott seems to sympathize more with women in the song than the confused Casanova.   

“King’s Call” is another song that sounds like it could have appeared on a Thin Lizzy album.  It’s a poignant song about the singer’s reaction to the death of Elvis Presley.  Listening to this song today, one can’t help but draw an unfortunate parallel to Lynott’s own death in 1986.  It’s especially difficult to hear him sing about drinking “a bottle of wine and gin” when Elvis dies (Lynott died of complications from substance abuse). The song is bittersweet, however, because as Lynott attests in the song, “You can always hear the King’s Call” can also apply to Lynott and the amazing work he did.  I also find it a little funny that a ballsy rocker like Lynott so idolized Elvis.  I think a lot of people from my generation tend to under-appreciate Elvis and his cultural significance.

The rest of the album departs from what many would expect to hear from the lead-singer of Thin Lizzy.  “A Child’s Lullaby” is just that, a lullaby to Phil’s daughter Sarah.  The lyrics, which are simple but clearly from the heart,  are beautifully paired with an orchestral arrangement that’s as delicate as Lynott’s vocals.  I can’t think of a song further from “The Boys Are Back In Town,”  and it a way it bums me out that this side of Phil Lynott is not the one people remember the most.  As raucous and rebellious as Thin Lizzy was, Lynott was big softie at heart.   “Tattoo (Giving It Up All For Love)” is a super-catchy R&B number that also should have been a monster-hit**.  “Girl” is another R&B-like departure which manages to defy Lynott’s tough-guy/Thin Lizzy image.  Worth noting is the fact that this song, and “Solo in Soho” both feature a really weird spoke-word segment by this British woman who sounds a bit like a robot.  I’d say that that this one detail is the only blight on an otherwise awesome record (this woman does not know what “emote” means and speaks in the flattest possible manner).

SOLO IN SOHO is noteworthy for addressing the subject of race, something not really touched upon by Thin Lizzy.  On “Ode To A Black Man” Lynott seems both angry and filled with pride about being black.  It’s funny, but I never really thought about Lynott’s race growing up, he was just the dude from Thin Lizzy…but Lynott wasn’t a white guy.  I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of coming from a racially mixed background (especially during the 50’s and 60’s when Lynott grew up) but I find “Ode To A Black Man” fascinating.  It makes me wish Lynott had written more songs about his experiences of being black.

Blinded by Rock? Can you believe I never gave much thought to Lynott’s racial background?

“Yellow Pearl” is an awesome and a bit baffling bit of techno-pop.  It’s pretty much as far from Thin Lizzy’s classic rock sound as one can get, and yet it’s pretty fantastic in it’s own right.  I’ve listened to this song a few times and I’ll be honest…I have no idea what this song is about (if you know congratulations, you’re smarter than me, please tell me in the comments below).  It’s trippy and cool and ahead of it’s time/completely awesome, you really need to experience it for yourself.  The album ends with “Talk In ’79” which is an almost spoken-word piece about the music scene at the time.  As a piece of history it’s interesting, as Lynott name-checks Brian Eno, The Police, and Rockpile of all things.  In the last line of the song Lynott mystically says:

“This broadcast was brought to you in 1979

I’m just talking to you over these waves

Not just another time and another place

And before we knew it

The old wave was gone and controlled.”

An interesting fact that people don’t know about Phil Lynott is that he was friends with The Sex Pistols and was a champion of the early punk scene.  I find this curious because those same punk-rockers would be the same people who would eventually turn the tide against rock bands like Thin Lizzy.  “Talk In 79” seems like a critique on both the music press and the music “scene” in general.  I wish Lynott hadn’t died because I’d like to know what his reaction to music press in the digital age.  Genres are more splintered and the audience is doubly fickle.   An artist like Phil Lynott probably wouldn’t have been allowed to flourish and mature.  I can’t imagine an album like SOLO IN SOHO coming out today.  Lynott was a well-established artist but based on his previous work with Thin Lizzy, SOLO IN SOHO was a gamble.  Sadly, the album isn’t very easy to find today.  I wasn’t able to download it on iTunes or stream it on Spotify.  My local record shop didn’t have a copy, either, so the only way I was able to get my hands on it was to buy it from Amazon as a (gasp!) physical CD.  I find that a shame because there is so much good stuff on SOLO IN SOHO.  If you’re in a second-hand record shop and you see SOLO IN SOHO pick it up, it’s a fantastic record by an often overlooked artist.

FOOTNOTES:

*Both musically and pharmacologically.

**Interestingly enough, “Tattoo (She’s Giving It All Up For Love)” was covered by Huey Lewis & The News on their 1982 album PICTURE THIS.

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