The Darkness, Hammersmith Apollo, 25th November 2011

By Adrian Gray

November had been a stressful month for me. This was mainly due to my unwavering desire to avoid learning anything about what songs might and might not be played on The Darkness’ ‘Every Inch’ tour- so much so that I would dive under my desk every time I accidentally glimpsed the word ‘surprise’ or ‘acoustic’ on relevant Twitter feeds.

Fortunately, my slightly sad commitment to set-list based ignorance paid off and, waiting outside the Apollo in the November cold, I was fully prepared to have my face blown off in a rock and roll fashion. Eight past seven on the slightly un-punctual dot and the doors opened, and with a quick sprint the front row was mine.

For reasons that have escaped my memory, I believed the first support act Crown Jewel Defense to be from Ireland. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when the California born and bred lead singer first opened his mouth. Despite this initial perplexion, CJD actually produced a solid batch of tightly knit riffs and overall punchy songs, warming the cockles nicely.

A brief wait.

Then, Foxy Shazam: a band with which I had fallen deeply in love over the previous eight months but had yet had the chance to see live. What they pulled off no-one could have prepared for. The audaciously eccentric Eric Nally bombarded the audience with a concoction of soaring vocals, headstands, frontward rolls, Luke Skywalker impressions, dramatic monologues and piggy backs. And all of this to the backdrop of deliciously melodic ‘rock and soul’ anthems performed with the energy of band convinced the world will actually end in 2012. Spectacular.

A perhaps even briefer wait.

Finally, with the soundcheck now history, Thin Lizzy stuck in my head and Abba’s Arrival filling the sweaty air, it was time.

A roar: there they were. All four positions were assumed: another roar. Then- ‘Black Shuck’. Perhaps not the opener I was expecting, with ‘Bareback’ suspiciously absent, but boy did it work. Suddenly the energy of the crowd was vast; the heat and noise verging on overwhelming; and as the familiar opening chords of ‘Growing on me’ leapt from the speakers, the momentum only grew.

And with that, thousands were collectively plunged into a feast of overwhelmingly awesome rock. The unstoppable ‘Best of me’ cascaded into a better than ever sounding ‘One Way Ticket’, before (hopefully) soon to be hit single ‘Nothing’s Gonna’ Stop us’ provided a catchy first taste of what’s just over the horizon. Following a blistering ‘Getcha ands orf’, Justin placed a top hat upon his flowing yet somehow manly locks and donned an acoustic, before entering into the brand-spanking, shiny new ballad ‘Can’t believe it’s not love’. This was a new song for me and looks set to clamber atop the pile labelled ‘classics’: an intoxicating blend of characteristically irrepressible hooks combined with Steel Panther esc lyrics coated with a necessary sprinkle of subtlety.

A true highlight followed. An acoustic ‘Holding my own’ showed everyone why it was worthy of closing ‘Permission to land’ and proved the kind of grin-inducing surprise I’m glad I managed to avoid hearing about.

Back to electric.

Hits were then followed by hits which were followed by new songs which were followed by hits. The rock quartet became a festive four-piece as slightly too much fake snow christened the beginning of the fantastic ‘Don’t Let the bells end’. The audience took the role of the school choir to provide a stronger, if slightly less innocent sounding finale.

The encore was upon us. But then, a familiar figure: the no longer black yet ever iconic hair of a man without whom the Darkness may not exist appeared- Lord Brian May was on stage. A violently loud reception followed, with every last member of the audience voicing their appreciation for the man who has by now perfected seeming modest while clearly remaining preposterously awesome. Without an introduction ‘Bareback’ began, and although hearing it this late in the set was a bit like receiving an Easter egg in September, it was still massively welcome.

Although hard to hear over the sound of five thousand voices screaming one man’s name, I’m relatively sure ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ was played next, which lifted yet another roof off after nearly forty years of doing so. Brian thankfully remained to smother the timeless ‘I-believe’ in the wail of the red special. Incredible.

The classic closer ‘Love on the Rocks’ combined with a walkabout drew the night to a close in a typically mesmerizing fashion. My ears were ringing, my ribs were bruised, but a smile was painted permanently onto my face. Turning around to look at the crowd, I think this applied to pretty much everyone else too.

So that was that. The kind of night to brag on the internet about. The kind of night to tell your kids and your kids’ best friends about. Interestingly, three of the songs I enjoyed the most were ‘Concrete Lion’ , ‘Nothing’s Gonna’ Stop us’, and ‘Can’t believe it’s not love’, and that can only bode well for what is to come in the land of D’.

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