They say the clothes make the man, but in rock and roll, the clothes help make the band, too. Where would rock be without those flamboyant form-fitting outfits? What about glam and metal? Certainly England's the Darkness, which played a not full but fully engaged Vic Sunday night, wouldn't have packed quite the same impact minus the conviction of its skin-tight wardrobe, not least singer/guitarist Justin Hawkins' proudly ridiculous chest-baring, black-and-white-striped jumpsuit.
Whether that impact rises much above novelty remains a point of contention, but the Darkness, unrepentantly unfashionable in its tastes, doesn't seem the sort of band that cares what anyone thinks. Last year's "Hot Cakes," its third album and first since reuniting, doesn't dig much deeper than the most obvious icons of hard rock for its references, yet the group, and in particular perpetually-histrionic singer Hawkins, gave its grinning, sweating, sometimes winking all in service of some of the most well-trod cliches in rock: the harmonizing guitars, the flashy solos, the headstand on the drum riser, fanning your split legs open and shut in time with the clapping audience.
OK, that last one shows how far Hawkins is willing to go to maintain your attention, but for those who still dared dismiss the Darkness as a one-joke band, the group revealed its secret weapon: it's actually a two-joke band. If the first and foremost joke was its non-ironic affection for the Big Dumb Rock of bands like AC/DC, whose no-style style was borrowed nearly wholesale for swaggering stompers such as "Black Shuck" and "Every Inch of You," or the giddy pomp of Queen, its second joke was that beyond the goofy appropriations and fleeting irony (assuming lascivious crotch thrusts can even be ironic), the Darkness could also be a pretty potent pop act.
Huge hooks drove the likes of "Growing On Me," "Givin' Up" and "She's Just a Girl, Eddie," while its breakthrough hit "I Believe In a Thing Called Love" reached such ebullient highs it would have worked well in any era, whether the '70s/'80s heyday of hard rock the Darkness mines most for inspiration or the present it bends to its will. Indeed, it takes a certain mad genius to credibly remake Radiohead's melancholy "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" in the galloping mold of Judas Priest, but it takes real jokes-on-you talent for the band to do it as well as the Darkness does.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun