The Darkness / Ten Benson / Young Heart Attack - Manchester Apollo - 10.12.03

It's a hard job opening up for the Darkness. An enviable position to be in, but one ultimately that will leave you pushing against the tide. Austin's Young Heart Attack aren't your average band though. Jenn Stephens looks like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and shakes and shimmies to the riffs craftily pilfered from AC/DC's greatest hits. With a frontwoman that exudes cool from every pore and makes Brodie Dalle look like Hayley the Trannie from Corrie you can't help but feel the rest of the band look like Redneck hicks, but this essential backbone to the band are the creative forces behind "Over And Over" and "Misty Rowe", two classic lost singles of the year, and "Nothing To Lose", "Starlight" and "Mouthful Of Love". YHA provide sex and the neanderthal primal urge to rock and after wowing crowds with Motorhead two months earlier it seems their success is guaranteed.

(Young Heart Attack and Ten Benson in Action)

Ten Benson on the other hand deliver a forgettable dirge which grates from the outset. Visually their slightly gothic take on the rock and roll thrift shop rock reminds us off Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and similar their songs just chug along amiably enough to keep your interest, but never enough to run out and seek more. Like much of the crowd we'd expected a lot from these guys and we couldn't help be disappointed with what we saw.

(Dan rips it up)

In truth though it's all about The Darkness and if we could have had 2 sets from the band we'd have all lapped it up just as eagerly as the first time. It's only 2 months since we saw the Darkness play this very venue and the excitement has not diminished one iota. The fact that with just one album behind them the only new material we will be hearing on the amusingly titled "Elf Hazard" tour is the Xmas single "Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)", but it doesn't really matter. Each of the Darkness' songs carry a kinetic energy which means you can listen to any song from their repertoire on repeat for a solid hour and still be punching your fists in the air and giving the thumbs up in the mirror to yourself long after the duracel's have run out. As the lights dim and the overblown intro music fills the theatre we wait patiently for Justin's shadow dancing and as the curtains drop Justin scissor kicks in time for the first crunching guitar chords of "Bareback". "Black Shuck" follows as always and then as Justin opens his mouth for the first time tonight something bizarre crossed our minds - Justin is Steve Coogan playing Alan Partridge playing Samuel Pepys. It's there in the calls for the clean or dirty "Get Your Hands Off My Woman Motherf**ker, it's there in the groin or heart call and response after "Love Is Only A Feeling". Despite the fact that tonight's show felt much more of a band show with Dan and Frankie coming to the fore, the show is still Justin's and none more so than when he's carried through the audience AC/DC style to play the solo to "Love On The Rocks" at which point the words "Don't you understand the words get the f**k off my guitar". The prized guitar being touched and caressed by hands other than his own is a cardinal sin, but he laughs it off with a run through Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" for good measure.

(The Poullain shows off his fine tache)

For me it's only "Stuck In A Rut" that lets the band down in a show has already become a greatest hits set. Previous singles "Growing On Me" and "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" are less polished than their recorded versions and in particular the former loses it's indie rock leanings. The highlights for met at any Darkness gig will always be "Friday Night" and "Best Of Me", possibly the two best rock songs of the past 40 years. So so infectious and so uncool at the same time. It's geek love, but it's our love and for many people The Darkness have re-ignited the fire in their lives. Always a band to follow the traditions of the rock bible the set's finale could only be "Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)". A song which initially disappointed, but after hearing it for the best part of the two weeks previous I have to admit it's, pardon the pun, growing on me. A dark melancholy song which sees Justin using the vocoder and has us the audience as the choir. Head to toe in a specially made spandex santa outfit it's the 3rd costume change of the evening and sticks to the rule of tight trousers and ample flesh on display.

(From one cool mofo to another - Justin and yours truly in action at the Apollo)

Across the city another Justin was playing the MEN Arena, a venue that the Darkness admit they could have sold out several times over at this stage in their career. This time next year Justin of Timberlakia, USA will be checking into rehab after several stories about his not so clean-cut private life destroy his career. Repeat after us now: There is only one Justin. He is our leader and he front's the best band to happen to music in our lifetime. Long live the Darkness!!!

Alex McCann
Photo's by Karen McBride -

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