It was a cold Friday night in October when The Darkness descended on Toronto, the band that in 2003 radio hosts swore were going to “save rock and roll” from the rise of Indie music. Like Rock and Roll had been Taken and this Liam Neeson esque band was going to go on a rampage to get it back. Luckily the notion that rock and roll was dead has faded from the press and back into the laments of old men worried that the world isn’t like the one they remember.
Arriving late as usual I was a little surprised by the small line still filtering through the doors. These Raven Skies were already part of the way through their set by the time I made it inside. The first thing that struck me about them was their visual aesthetic, each member resembling a different famous musician. A person near me commented on how the guitarist looked like Robert Smith from The Cure and I was not able to focus after that my brain distractedly trying to find other famous musicians who the rest of the band looked like. Musically the band played fast hard rock and while the music was good and everyone in the band was talented in their own right, I found the set a little generic sounding, full of the bluster and bravado that, while fun, didn’t really add anything new. As an opening act though they set a good tone and energized the audience for what was coming next.
I’ve had a few really strange encounters going to shows and 90% of those encounters have happened at The Phoenix. So with this venue and the crowd who might come to see The Darkness play, I had prepared myself for some pretty strange and aggressive behaviour, none of which came to pass. The age mix in the crowd was larger than I had expected, with a large number of older people enjoying the show from the back, safely away from flailing limbs and close to the largest concentration of open bars.
The lights went out, the stage was set but empty. The Boys Are Back in Town began playing from the speakers, heralding the return of The Darkness to Toronto. As Thin Lizzy faded slowly away, the crowd was basked in blue light and smoke. These “smurfs in the mist” cheered and began throwing up the horns as dark shapes moved into view on stage. Bright white lights came up, searing the image of the 4 men on stage into my retinas and with that the first song started. Within about 30 seconds things had reached peak ridiculousness on stage and stayed that way for the rest of the night. There was so much movement on stage that the bassist and guitarist seemed to almost blur at times, silhouetted by the bright lights behind them. The singer stood in a black and white vertically striped jacket and pants, his impressive falsetto carrying across the room above the music. He bantered cheekily with the audience between songs adopting a laissez faire attitude that seems to come bottled with a true rock and roll persona. They blasted through their set efficiently and evocatively and by the end I felt exhausted. I was disoriented, with my ears ringing and images of lanky British men burned into my retinas from the power of the lights at the back of the stage. I left the bar confident in the knowledge that despite what people might say, as long as there are bands like this putting on shows like that, we’re going to be fine. Rock isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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Review by Tristan Johnston