The Darkness at the Regency Ballroom, by Aaron Rubin
The Darkness (photo: Aaron Rubin)

Words by Aaron Rubin

The late, great Lemmy Kilmister once referred to The Darkness as a novelty act, and there are still those who are quick to dismiss the band as nothing more than a slightly amusing, glam-metal piss-take.

A superficial listener who heard only the band’s first singles could be excused for believing that assessment. But while no one would mistake the Darkness for serious artistes, they are far more than a novelty. In fact, the Darkness are the spiritual heirs of bands like the Ramones and Redd Kross — groups that use humor and self-referentiality to play an elaborate game of cat and mouse with the listener, constantly raising the questions (1) is this a joke? and (2) if it is, how much is the band itself in on it? A band that can keep its audience guessing in that way — and the Darkness does so expertly — is no mere novelty act.

And when it comes to the music, the Darkness has consistently been one of the best straight-ahead rock and roll bands treading the boards over the past 15 years or so. While their first album, 2003’s Permission to Land, was an accomplished but somewhat derivative bubblegum metal record, the band showed its depth with its next album, One Way Ticket to Hell… And Back, a record that sounded more like the bastard child of Queen and Sparks than anything Poison ever released.

The Darkness is currently touring to promote their most recent album, Pinewood Smile, and made a stop in San Francisco for a show at the Regency Ballroom. The tour is billed as the “Tour de Prance,” and there was certainly some prancing — vocalist and guitar player Justin Hawkins has all the standard rock frontman moves down cold — but the performance was no joke. The Darkness is a serious rock band at the top of its game, and they delivered a high-energy, career-spanning set to a capacity crowd.

The bottom line is that a band doesn’t get this good or stick it out this long based only on a joke. It takes commitment and a real, unironic passion for rock and roll, and that came through at the Regency. As much as it pains me to admit Lemmy’s fallibility, when it comes to the Darkness, he got it wrong.

Check out the photos below.