The Darkness and Black Stone Cherry take to Manchester’s AO Arena for a co headline slot.
We’ve “shown up early to the rock n roll show” according to appreciative support act Danko Jones. He’s not wrong.
The bootleggers haven’t even lined the streets around the AO arena as we arrive for tonight’s gig, but this is the nature of the double headline show.
Co-headliners The Darkness and Black Stone Cherry represent just two of the shades that make up the varied spectrum of rock n roll. They’re not opposite ends of the spectrum but different wavelengths? Sure.
Tonight we get to enjoy these differences in all their glory. Their choices of pre-intro music that fills the arena before they each take to the stage highlights the contrast perfectly. The Darkness follow the Bee Gees and ABBA. Black Stone Cherry beckon us in with Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and AC/DC.
Striding onto stage in tight bootcut jeans and t-shirt Justin Hawkins is every inch the rockstar frontman.
20 years on from their debut number one album Permission To Land it’s no surprise that The Darkness pull mostly heavily from this record this evening, opening with it’s second single Growing On Me to a backdrop of raining golden pyro.
As the hits continue to swagger in, Hawkins borrowing some moves from Jagger, it’s impossible for us not to enjoy reminiscing about its release and how huge it was at the time, how huge it still is going by the audience’s reactions to hearing their opening riffs here tonight.
In some circles The Darkness have been labelled as a somewhat novelty band which seems like a great disservice. They don’t hide their influences, far from it, in fact the son of Queen’s Roger Taylor has been their drummer since 2015. Just because they enjoy throwing in a “AY-OH”, donning a cat suit and sneaking in a few bars of Van Halen’s Jump into tonight’s show shouldn’t take anything away from the music that’s spent its fair share of time in the charts over the last two decades.
The rockstar image on show goes from strength to strength as Justin loses the shirt to bear his tattooed torso before a more theatrical mid-set outfit change into one of his more trademark spandex jumpsuits.
The change in attire signals a slight swing in a more glam rock direction and appears to free Justin up for a more acrobatic performance. We’re treated to heel clicks, headstands (with foot claps), nifty guitar pick tricks all ending with the piste de la resistance of seeing him carried through the crowd on a crew member’s shoulders without missing a note of his guitar solo for Love on the Rocks With No Ice.
To our relief it seems only a small number of people have come tonight solely for The Darkness and the arena now awaits Black Stone Cherry. We’re about to shift from a very, very English version of rock n roll to a very American one.
Still with audible 70’s influences that are impossible to escape thanks to Chris Robertson’s gritty Kentucky drawl it’s more of a foot stomping set, full of blues and southern style stories.
Opening with Me and Mary Jane from their Magic Mountain album that reached number five in the UK, the run of tracks that follow deliver a more evenly career spanning set that their UK counterparts that sees includes every studio album represented, 2011’s Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea coming out on top.
The theatrics are gone but it’s still energetic, Ben and Steve on guitar and bass respectively sprinting across the stage from each other, the latter swinging his long hair around and back and forth and Ben climbs and leaps from the drum riser.
Comparatively, Chris stands nearly stoic centre stage. Sunglasses and trucker hat obscuring his expressions as he delivers his searing vocals into the mic, stepping to the front of the stage and closer to the crowd when it’s time for him to solo and riff.
It’s a clap-along good time. Just because they’re not in spandex doesn’t mean they’re not having just as much fun and for a large portion of attendees Black Stone Cherry was tonight’s main draw and by all accounts they delivered.