'Darkness' overwhelms Baltimore

Britain's hottest rock act invades U.S.

By COSTA CALOUDAS Eagle Staff Writer

It was a sold-out crowd at Fletcher's - a Baltimore club that holds no more than 300 people - and expectations couldn't have been higher. It marked the first date of the Darkness' U.S. tour and the band's first stateside gig in a city without serious music industry presence. The band, which has played everywhere from Luxembourg to Malaysia, hasn't played a traditional show in the United States, save for appearances in music industry hotspots like Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Texas', South by Southwest showcase. The band's Nov. 16 performance at Fletcher's marked its visit to the smallest venue the Darkness has played since the United Kingdom christened the band members rock superstars. The crowd was diverse. Nostalgic 40-year-olds attended, trying to recapture the glory days of a David Lee Roth-fronted Van Halen. Anglophile-savvy youths were represented, aiming to catch of glimpse of the United Kingdom's latest hot-stuff import. Top of the Pops, the BBC television show, brought a camera crew. It's clear to all in attendance that the night was special. But the Darkness is atypical of Great Britain's exaggerated hype machine, and it has got the props to prove it. The band has opened for everyone from the Rolling Stones to Robbie Williams. Alice Cooper called it the best band in the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Tony Blair admits he's a Darkness fan. AC/DC has given it the thumbs up. Queen founders Brian May and Roger Taylor have separately popped up at its gigs. So what exactly does the Darkness have that appeals to such famous and respected musicians? "Old-school values never go out of style," Bass-slinger Frankie Poullain told The Eagle. "Good songs, personalities, integrity and a sense of fun are all important. These guys have seen it all before so they can tell if a band is phony or not. I think we're keeping it real, we're expressing ourselves as people." He explained that the band members' stage personas are exactly who they are, which is why you see extroverted and amusing front-man Justin Hawkins sporting spandex cat suits, and not Poullain. The Darkness is also completely devoid of snobbery and pretension. "Take a band like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I wouldn't want to be a part of their audience. They take themselves way too seriously and try too hard to be cool and sophisticated." But Poullain notes that Motorcycle Club doesn't have natural sophistication, but rather studied sophistication. In contrast, the Darkness is unstudied, unplanned and genuine. But just because the Darkness' sound is heavily derived from '70s and '80s rock doesn't mean it holds the same ideological values toward the opposite sex. Misogyny-slanted songs like Kiss' "Lick it Up" and Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls" have no place in the Darkness' ethos. Instead it opts for sensitive anthems like "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." "I'd like to make a distinction," Poullain said. "We're not like that at all." Case in point, for Q magazine's January issue, Q wanted the Darkness to pose with scantily clad models for the cover photo shoot, but the band refused. "It's such a clich?," Poullain said. "We don't like to do clich?s for the sake of it. It just isn't real. We don't hang around with models in real life, so why should we pretend that we do? We like real women." So what was meeting the Rolling Stones like? "Most people that have met the Stones have come out with the same impression. They're exactly like you would imagine them to be; they're larger than life. They're caricatures, in a good way." The Darkness' debut record, "Permission to Land," is in stores now.

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