The Darkness with Illuminati at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (September 20), 7 pm. $7. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
the darkness are hot shit in the UK right now. They've been featured in all the music mags, graced the cover of NME and won both best live album and best live act at the Kerrang! Awards. Everybody all over England is all, like, "Yeeeeah! the Darkness fuckin' rooools! Aaaaaargh!" But try to find anything about these bizarre, flamboyant rock throwbacks in the North American press and you start to feel like you're in a Twilight Zone episode. Google the Darkness and, OK, you get the band's official site, but beyond that and a bunch of goth stuff, it's like they don't even exist.
"That doesn't surprise me," says vocalist Justin Hawkins amiably. "I expect that's how it's gonna be worldwide. It took us so long to make it in the UK."
It didn't actually take that long. There are bands out there who've been slugging it out for decades, and the Darkness have only been at it for a few years. What Hawkins means is that very quickly the Darkness built up a huge following and generated a massive amount of hype in the UK. But there wasn't a major label that would touch 'em (they're now with Warner/Atlantic) because, well, they're kind of ridiculous.
They play over-the-top anthemic cock rock with double-tracked guitar solos and pop metal riffs topped with screaming falsetto vocals, all performed with the bravado and pageantry of Queen.
Nodding stylistically to both Mark Bolan and Freddy Mercury, Hawkins adorns himself with outrageous rockwear and defiant rock facial expressions purloined from the likes of Angus Young. Onstage he sports skin-tight spandex and chest-baring jumpsuits while prancing around like David Lee Roth.
It's hard to know whether to laugh at it or love it, and since we've developed permanently raised eyebrows when it comes to this sort of thing, we have to wonder if it's OK to love it and think it's side-splittingly funny and kind of awful all at the same time.
Somewhere along the way Meat Loaf became respectable, and now nobody knows what's real any more.
The Brit press is trying to convince us that if we laugh at these guys, we're the ones who are uncool. And to that I say, "Bite me." Skinny long-haired guys in stripey spandex catsuits are funny. Freddy Mercury looked like a right fuckin' idiot in his day, and nothing's changed.
"Of course it's funny," agrees Hawkins, "and that's nothing to be ashamed of. What bothers me is that some people think we're taking the piss out of the music, but we take aspects of being in this band very seriously. For a long time the whole thing was mistaken for being an ironic gesture."
The Darkness are a bit much. Hawkins uses his falsetto as a main ingredient rather than a spice, so at times he sounds like he's yodelling.
Their clothes are silly, and while a couple of the tunes on their major-label debut, Permission To Land - like Givin' Up - are pretty rawkin', the others do nothing but annoy.
Still, it's a damn sight better than whiny mood rock or rehashed garage, neither of which are fun to watch live. Unfortunately, however, the handstands and acrobatics I've read so much about have been put on hold .
"I broke my toe when we were playing with Def Leppard. The last couple of attempts have just been painful."