Fee Fi Fo Fum, we smell the blood of two rock and roll bands. We go dancin’ on a Friday night with The Darkness & Massive Wagons, Manchester Academy, 3rd December 2021
As far as double bills go, this was quite a belter and further proof of our maxim – ‘always see the support band’. You may have seen them already – Massive Wagons headlining Academy 2 back in September and getting a well-earned reputation for being one of the busiest and hardest working bands on the circuit. Well deserved it is too as they’re an outfit as tight as the proverbial and anyone who was getting their first shot of the adrenaline-saturated performance from Baz Mills and the band will testify.
Their set would surely have many of the early arrivals and the curious at the barrier duly converted with the two guitar duo of Stevie Holl (sporting a grin that never leaves his face) and Adam Thistlethwaite armed with his signature Flying V doing their best to keep up with the wired Mills. The inspired choice of Fee Fi Fo Fum to open their set and it seemed like we’re back in ’73 when Hard Rock was king. Joined by the machine-gun fire of Pressure and the extended medley where Bangin’ On Your Stereo evolves into I Fought The Law and Cheap Trick’s Surrender, the choice selection of prime cuts from their catalogue came belted out in front of a mighty Marshall stack – ‘back to the stack’ geddit? If you were there for The Darkness, you can’t have failed to bite on the Massive Wagons hook.
Totally irrepressible, Massive Wagons continues to be the band you simply can’t fault and who can do no wrong. New songs and a new album imminent…more touring…more happy days.
Talking of bands you can’t ignore for whatever reason, the headliners might have been around a little longer but might not still have to prove that they’re more than just a good fun party outfit. Of course, they swagger on with a real rock star bravado and the pronouncement that “we’re number on in the rock chart!” with the new Motorheart album, assures us that The Darkness has the songs and the chops to be still selling the records. Of course, Justin Hawkins takes off on regular bouts of falsetto and there are several costume changes where he shifts from the opening outfit (a reminder of Jimmy Page in the stormtrooper outfit circa 1977) to lose the top half by the half-hour mark. The transformation into “professional lead singer!” is complete once the hair and wiring get untangled.
The standard jumpsuit comes soon after and later on, he’s in full Santa garb with the anticipated appearance of Grace Webb to accompany Santa Justin on Grace’s Amazing Machines in the encore slot along with ‘the hit’. Audience participation too, is in full swing, not only with chants of “Dark-ness, Dark-ness,” doing a telling job singing their hearts out on Friday Night – after all, it is – and the irrepressible chant on Givin Up. The band channels their inner AC/DC on Black Shuck and they become the alternative to The Cult with the Goth-tinged Open Fire that pepper the set alongside the stylish swinging power ballads where the stereotypical view of the Darkness was made and gets reinforced.
They have enough firepower though to challenge the views that they’re just showbiz or even a light-hearted alternative in the vein of Steel Panther. Justin may be a more balanced version of his former self these days but he’s still a riveting frontman of a band that has the rock chops and the riffs to compete with those at the top of the tinsel plastered Hard/Glam Rock tree. We still need bands like the Darkness.