Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Darkness, Foxy Shazam, Crown Jewel Defense at House of Blues Las Vegas, Friday Feb 17, 2012

After the runaway success of their debut, Permission to Land, the Darkness' rising star seemed to skyrocket. Their initial US tour was phenomenal (of course, they skipped Vegas - we had to see them in LA), singer Justin Hawkins performed with Queen, the press loved them and they seemed unstoppable. Unfortunately, the next record, One Way Ticket to Hell and Back, while having some moments, was overall pretty mediocre and, plagued with drug problems, the band faded away. We had literally just been wondering whatever happened to these guys the same day that we saw that they were playing at the House of Blues! To avoid our curse of bands canceling whenever we buy tickets in advance, we waited and bought them at the door (they didn't sell out in advance as they did in LA this tour) and we were rewarded with a terrific show!

We got to the HOB at the scheduled time to discover that a third band had been added to the bill. I still can't remember their entire silly name, but it was Crown Jewels something or another (Crown Jewel Defense) and they were pretty forgettable. They appeared to be some kind of parody band, but without a funny punchline or memorably tunes. The lead singer/guitarist, while quite animated, seemed to be emulating an 80's hair metal band, the 2nd guitarist was sorta punk'n'roll styled (with skin tight pants that somehow kept falling down around his ass - I have no idea how he managed that), the bassist looked like he was trying to be in the Back Street Boys or something (complete with backwards baseball cap, which I didn't think that anyone did anymore, as it was incredibly stupid style to begin with) and the drummer, who played to backing tracks, could have been in the Grateful Dead. The music was just bad metal - nothing that stuck in your head at all. They tried, but just didn't connect with us. Of course, it didn't help that they all - even the bass player - changed guitars between every song, destroying any momentum they might have been able to build otherwise.

Oh the other hand, the next act, Foxy Shazam, were highly entertaining. I had heard the name, but didn't know anything about them at all, so when they dashed on stage, their maniacal presence certainly made an impression! The drummer, bassist and guitarist all were stylishly rock'n'roll, their keyboardist looked something like an Islamic terrorist, the trumpet player (yes!) was quite dapper and their lead singer was a super-skinny Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band) look-alike, who took many of his moves from him, but sang like Russel Mael from Sparks1 The music was very Sparks influenced, as well, though the stage show was non-stop action. The singer somersaults continually while doing James Brown mic moves (which he probably also got from Peter Wolf), the keyboardist plays while standing on his keys as often as not and the trumpet player, who also sang great background vocals, did more with his horn than most guitar players do with their instrument! I'm not certain how this would translate on record, but live, they were unstoppable! See them if ya can!

The Darkness took an inexplicably and extraordinarily long time to appear, but when they did, they hit hard with "Black Shuck". It did take some time for the sound man to get over the dreaded bass-and-kick-drum-as-lead-instrument syndrome, but once the guitars were audible, the group took over! The audience was behind them the whole time, even kids were were probably pre-pubescent when the Darkness released their debut but who still knew all the words to all of the songs. After rockin' the title song of their last record, Justin mentioned that they were hardly playing any songs from that album on this tour until a fan asked them to play more, which they unfortunately did. This was the low point of the show as that record is the low point of their career  even the band seemed to not care as much during these numbers. But they came back with some of the best songs and everyone was in fine form tonight - Justin is singing better than ever and the group looked and played amazingly. They closed with, of course, "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" and came back with an AC/DC-esque instrumental and then ended the night with "Love on the Rocks (With No Ice)" with Justin solo-ing while being carried through the audience on the shoulders of a roadie.

It doesn't appear that their hiatus hurt them in any way - the Darkness are stronger than ever and a force to be reckoned with! Their brand of goofy, funny, and damn catchy pop-metal seems to be bigger than ever - long may they wave!

(Photo by Melanie Coffee)