Numerous piercings - check. Extravagant array of tattoos - check. Potentially fatal moshpit - check. Let battle commence . . .
This is the Kerrang! Day Of Rock at Virgin Megastore, and it does exactly what it says on the packet.
First up are controlled chaos merchants Sikth. The crowd are whipped into the sort of frenzy you'd expect to see at a Day Of Rock, whatever the temperature outside. As crazy as it is though, in amongst the havoc are some real songs and their set is well received. One to look out for.
Next up it's Crackout. Whilst they play a reasonably tight, tuneful set, there is something lacking. They seem a bit too eager to please, with lead singer Steven Eagles declaring at one point, "You guys are pretty cool." That's not what these people want! This is a day of rock. This crowd want to be spat at and abused, not complimented. You could almost hear Crackout's PR tutting in disapproval. Slipknot's DJ once dove into the crowd and left a 19 year old female fan with head and spinal injuries. She later described it as: "The greatest gig ever." That's what these people want! As for the fact that the drummer is wearing a tie; well . . .
One of the potential highlights of the day, Funeral For A Friend, unfortunately pulled out at the last minute. Obviously in the right place at the right time, Winnebago Deal stepped in to fill the gap. Tipped for success, the Oxford duo manage to bring the energy levels back up with a raucous set that doesn't seem to stop for breath until the very end. These rockers must work out. Plus they hate Good Charlotte, apparently. Here's to that.
"Biffy! Biffy!" chant the crowd. Biffy Clyro take to the stage. Introduced as "the best Scottish band since The Proclaimers", they have been slowly but surely accruing an ever growing fan base over the last few years, and today's impressive performance will only have boosted their effort. There is a sense of dignity to the attitude and style of punk rockers Biffy Clyro - reminiscent of underground legends Fugazi - that demands your respect, and the majority of today's crowd are certainly well aware of what they're capable of. A solid performance from a solid group.
'Rock' is a very generic term. In theory, the only requirement for a band to feature at a day of rock is that they be classed as a rock act. This means (again, only in theory) that Cannibal Corpse could appear on the same bill as Status Quo. Coming soon to a town near you. Or maybe even Sikth might show up on the same bill as The Darkness. Oh look.
Camper than a VW van, The Darkness are very much here. About half an hour before they're due on stage, the band stroll in for their sound check. Dressed in a cream jumpsuit, Justin Hawkins wanders in briefly, then wanders out again. The next time I see him, he is wearing black jeans and a Thin Lizzy t-shirt. For a few wonderful minutes, it occurs to me that the jumpsuit is what he wears around the house, as you'd expect from a rock god, and the jeans and t-shirt are merely his stage outfit. Brilliant. As it turns out, the person in jeans and t-shirt is actually Justin's extremely similar looking brother Dan, the band's guitarist. Justin is still very much jumpsuit clad, and the band are ready for their sound check. After a few obligatory 'one-two's and strikes of the cymbals, the band burst into I Believe In A Thing Called Love. Though there are only a handful of people present, said handful is already blown away. And that's just the soundcheck . . .
Twenty minutes later, with the full crowd now present, The Darkness take to the stage once again. The atmosphere is beyond electric, as is the set that follows. The classic Get Your Hands Off My Woman is played early on, containing the ultimate chant-along rock line "Get your hands off my woman, motherfucker!", and is soon followed by recent single Growing On Me. Constantly confronted by a sea of horn-like hand gestures, as you'd expect at a rock gig, Justin gives it a go himself. He then goes on to explain the merits of a thumbs up as a possible alternative. The crowd, of course, instantly obliges.
"We're going to do a song now by an Oxford combo called The Radioheads, who have been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, as have we. But they don't play Street Spirit the way we play Street Spirit," declares Justin. My God, he's not lying. The band proceed to play a thrash metal version of the aforementioned Radiohead track that leaves the audience aghast, and everyone wonders why it wasn't done like that in the first place. Hearing the original will never be the same again.
I Believe In A Thing Called Love is not far behind, blowing even more people away. Then Justin, perhaps finding the relatively small stage he's been bounding around on a bit constricting, straddles the shoulders of one of the robust roadies and is paraded around and then directly through the whole crowd. One male fan begs for a kiss from Justin, and gets his wish. Bass player Frankie, looking on from the stage, just shakes his head in feigned bemusement at the frontman's shameless posturing. With Justin back in place, the band wrap up what has been a truly astounding performance, and the jump-suited rock god declares his love for us all. We love him too. We really, really love him.
Some critics refuse to give The Darkness the time of day, writing them off as nothing more than a gimmick. It's their loss. As they have been justifiably dubbed, The Darkness are quite possibly the greatest rock group of the last twenty years. The fact that they can really, really play their instruments and have some fantastic tunes to back up all the posing just adds to the wonderful spectacle that is The Darkness. They're the greatest show on earth right now, and world domination beckons. Thumbs up, everyone . . .
:: Philip Goodfellow