The Darkness / Juliette Lewis & The Licks / The Ark - Manchester MEN Arena - 18.2.06

Who's that right tit flying round the MEN Arena? Too right, it's Justin Porkins!!! Do you realize how easy it would be launch a savage attack on the Darkness delivering bad pun after bad pun throughout the review and sit smugly knowing that for all their ego strops with an arena barely half full that the band are starting to realize those people they p*ssed off on the way up are baying for their blood on the way down....and the funny thing is as the Darkness fans are still seething from that first line I'm going to jump to the bands defence and suggest that the Darkness have simply shifted some dead-weights who have now jumped onto the next band du jour The Kaiser Chiefs who in turn are slowly being dumped unceremoniously for the Arctic Monkeys as we speak.

Swedish band The Ark fill the dubious opening slot that Do Me Bad Things occupied last year and while the latter split in wave of public indifference, The Ark have all the signs that they could well be playing the arena in their own right in a couple of years. As they take to the stage it seems only Designer Magazine and a small number of Swedish girls on tour with the band are aware of the bands career that spans 3 albums "We Are The Ark", "In Lust We Trust" and "The State Of The Ark", the coming out of their frontman Ola Salo as bisexual at 14 and headline appearances at European Festivals over the past 5 years. To say that the Darkness' flamboyant appearance was directly influenced by the Ark is nothing short of a huge understatement as its a well known fact that the Hawkins brothers are long-standing fans of the band and personally invited them out on the road with their for the UK leg of the tour.

The stall is set from the outset with "Clamour For Glamour" with it's Bowie-esque guitar riffs before heading into "Father Of A Son", an in your face repost to any homophobes who feel threatened by Ola's camp indifference. Dressed in the tightest trousers ever made they leave little to the imagination and his skinny frame is only highlighted by the feathered waistcoat he ruffles throughout. "The Others" is pure T-Rex rock and roll boogie before the synthetic sexual pleasure of "Let Your Body Decide" which sees a costume change with an angelic pair of wings sprouting on Ola's back. Ending on "One Of Us Is Gonna Die Young" they end as perfect a set as you can on a support slot and although they treated it as they were headlining the Arena in Manchester the hard-core Arketts were left waiting for the other highlights from their career. Come back soon boys!!!

When you try to take it from the silverscreen to the live stage actors / actresses usually struggle or meander in some middle of the road ala Russell Crowe with his 30 Odd Foot of Grunts or Jason Schwartzman with Phantom Planet. Us brits fair even worse with Life On Mars John Simms and his forgettable attempt at an indie career with Magic Alex. Somehow though Juliette Licks has managed to find some credibility with her band Juliette And The Licks. Possibly the most flexible woman we've ever seen (just look at the photos if you want proof), Juliette rocks through a set that recalls early Skunk Anansie, Courtney Love and three chord trash punk. It's an energetic blast throughout and while we couldn't recall any of the songs five minutes later we'd definitely check out this girl who succeeds as whatever see tries.

The last time The Darkness played the MEN Arena it was part of one of the biggest rock tours this country had seen in years and there was a real sense of excitement and anticipation about what audacious move they were about to pull off. With half of the tour complete by the time they arrive in Manchester they come determined to prove themselves against a wall of criticism and derision from much of the media.

After a musical intro of compiled tracks from the likes of Whitesnake, Kiss and Europe the fact  the band are entering to the same instrumental bagpipe intro they did 3 years ago at the Manchester Apollo gives the feel that this is simply an exercise in nostalgia than a band relevant to 2006. It's remarkable that what most bands take 25 years to achieve the Darkness have managed to achieve in little over five. A long period of obscurity in the wilderness before a massive breakthrough stadium tour, copious amounts of drugs, fall outs with band members and then a nostalgia tour where all members are notably more portly years later. The Darkness' nostalgia tour is taking place just 2 years after their previous arena tour and while the old classic from "Permission To Land" are given a rapturous reception, the tracks from "One Way Ticket To Hell And Back" are at best given a thumbs up and at worst used as regular toilet breaks.

Starting off with "Knockers" where Justin floats around the Arena on a giant pair of tits it probably the sole moment of genuine laughter during the show. The set pieces of "Give Me A D....give me a Arkness" and Justins weight gain (admittedly not that much, but enough to stop him wearing the catsuits and far too much to let him do the star jumps) take away from what are great tunes on record. "Dinner Lady Arms", "Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time" and "Girlfriend" are fantastic songs which easily stand up with "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" and "Friday Night" as the bands best songs, but given a half hearted delivery tonight where Justin struggles with the vocals is killing them off before their time. Comparatively the rest of the band are on the best form they've ever been and the departure of Frankie Poullain has been remarkably filled by Richie Edwards.

So are the Darkness over? Far from it. Despite a poor show tonight the people here tonight are the sort of fans that live and breathe rock music and are probably glad the fashionistas have moved on so they can have their band back. In fact with songs that are ultimately more relevant than the Kaiser Chiefs of Bloc Party all the band need to do is force Hawkins down the gym and write that killer single that will place them back at the top.

Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride

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