At the Commodore Ballroom on Friday, February 24.
I've seen a lot of great rock concerts at the Commodore over the years, but the one that's always stood out for me as "best ever" was Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers back in '78, just after the release of the You're Gonna Get It! album. I didn't think that I'd ever see another club gig as consistently stellar as that one--until last night's unforgettable performance by the Darkness.
I've gotta admit, I was not expecting anything nearly as stunning as what the British glam-rockers delivered on the Commodore's hallowed stage. But I'm pretty sure they were inspired to greatness by the over-the-top antics of opening act Foxy Shazam.
That Cincinnati six-piece is fronted by lead vocalist Eric Sean Nally, a shrimp of a man who comes across as the greatest rock 'n' roll dynamo to ever somersault across the stage and then smoke four cigarettes at once (after bumming them from the crowd). This guy is a total nutcase in concert, real looney tunes. His performing style reminds me of what Nardwuar the Human Serviette would be like if he'd grown up worshipping the Sweet instead of whoever the hell he grew up worshipping.
Nally's nerdy wildman blandishments accompanied hyper tunes from his band's new album, The Church of Rock and Roll, which was produced by the Darkness singer-guitarist Justin Hawkins. But it wasn't the material so much as the delivery that made the difference for Foxy Shazam.
"The best way to be in a successful band is to pretend that you're in a successful band," declared Nally, shortly after leaping onto the shoulders of guitarist Loren Daniel Turner and grinding his crotch into the back of Turner's neck for longer than you would have expected.
After Shazam's hilariously rocking performance the bar was set awfully high, but the Darkness dismantled it in a matter of minutes, starting with "Black Shuck", the AC/DC-ish opening track off its smash 2003 debut, Permission to Land. Right from the start Hawkins let it be known that he was in it for fun. "Gimme a 'D'!," he hollered, then, "gimme an 'arkness'!".
With two cranked Les Pauls leading the way--one handled by Hawkins, the other by his brother Dan--the Darkness tore through radio hits like "I Believe in a Thing Called Love", "Love is Only a Feeling", and "Growing on Me", but made them sound way more fierce live.
"It's terrifying trying to follow those guys," noted Hawkins about Foxy Shazam, and he did everything but stand on his head to compete with the openers. No wait--he did stand on his head, right in front of Ed Graham's bass drum. Talk about upside-down ear damage.
The Darkness's rampaging guitar noise would have been enough on its own to satiate any devotee of '70s-style hard-rock, but they just kept pulling off the neat tricks anyway. At one point Justin Hawkins flicked a guitar pick, bounced it twice off the side of his foot, and caught it. I'd like to see Tom Petty do that.
Not to be outdone by the likes of Angus Young--or Eric Nally--Hawkins hopped on a roadie's shoulders during the encore and got carried around the Commodore dance floor while laying down all matter of nasty guitar licks. That was about the time that I decided this was probably the best concert I'd ever seen.
Next to Thin Lizzy, of course.
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