Let There Be Rock

Michelle East
17th Feb 2024

Let There Be Rock: The Darkness, You Am I, DZ Deathrays, Cry Club

Big Day Out 2004, Sydney Showgrounds. The Darkness steal the festival with a stadium-ready set. The music press does not get it. Are they a parody, a tribute band, a real life Spinal Tap? Aussie punters get it, we have rock in our DNA, legacy of ACDC. 2004 was a very good year for The Darkness. They play Wembley, scoop the Brit Awards, and sell over 1.5 million copies of their debut album (4x platinum). By 2006, The Darkness looked like a rock ‘n’ roll tragedy. After a 5 year hiatus, they rebooted and begun the hard slog back, gaining cult band status for their legendary live shows. We gather at The Horden to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Permission to Land. The Darkness invite local rock royalty You Am I to present The Majesty of Tap. Mid-career garage rockers DZ Deathrays and up and comers pop-rock duo Cry Club are also on the bill ensuring there is something for every rock enthusiast. Light, sound, drums, guitar. Oh, Let There Be Rock.

Closing the circle on 20 years, I’m heading back towards the same grounds I first caught The Darkness. The Big Day Out travelling music festival rolled around Australian cities between 1992-2014, bringing the biggest and best from overseas and providing a platform for Aussie bands to grow an audience. At its peak, over 250,000 punters attended, 150,000 in Sydney. You Am I played almost every year of the first decade. DZ Deathrays played sometime in the second decade. A right of passage, a musical education.

Slapped back to the present by a tsunami of shiny, shiny people in pink. Pop star P!NK is playing at the Sydney Football Stadium. One kilometre and 45,000 people are between me and Let There Be Rock. Anxiety rising, I slip against the stream closely at the business end of a pair of police horses breaking a path through. I steady myself against the horsey agri-funk with unkind thoughts about colour coordinated sheep and live export opportunities. With much relief, I finally spot my people. (Faded) black, rocking band t-shirts, luxurious hair, and tatts. Touche, we are also a cliché. To be fair, both tribes are a multi-generational mix of fans, parents bringing their offspring, and live music enthusiasts. Can only be a good thing, right?

Until I find I have missed Cry Club’s set. Melbourne’s self-described queer genre bending pop rock duo have been making a name for their energetic live shows. The recently released second album crosses bubble gum pop with a punk sensibility. Punters on ground confirm its definitely worth checking out their live show. Next time.

Brisbane’s DZ Deathrays have built a dedicated following for their garage punk rock over years and years of touring, as solid support partners and festival staples. Fast and loud. Bassist Luke Henery (ex-Violent Soho) proved a great addition to the touring lineup, animating a powerful set with his windmilling hair and stage presence. King B, Paranoid and My Mind is Eating Me Alive from their 6th album R.I.F.F. are well received with heads nodding in approval. Too early for the mosh pit. The Deathrays are well primed for their upcoming Canada campaign and deserve a cross-over hit from this album.

You Am I reprise The Majesty of Tap. Tim Rogers and fellow band members clearly relish their alt-roles as Spinal Tap, dressed to the part and so in character not everyone around me has fully realised what is going on with the monologues bookending Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight and The Majesty of Rock. The crowd gets a bit restless mid-set as the standing room punters jostle in a friendly manner for position for the headliners. The music is too good and not to be ignored. The crowd sing along to Sex Farm, Big Bottom and Stonehenge. The comically small Stonehenge prop getting stuck on descent from the ceiling never fails to bring smile. The in jokes, the cruel skewering of rock tropes do not feel old after 40 years. As tradition dictates, the set closes with a repeat of Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight and of course the farewell ‘You’ve been great, goodnight, Adelaide.’

The Horden is near full capacity and electric with anticipation. I’ve been gifted a spot on the front rail by my new best friends from Mussellbrook. Proving The Darkness fans are the best people. The banter between sets has been first class. The crowd self-manages the opening singalong to Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town. Landing lights blaze either side of the stage mimic the cover of Permission to Land (hello Flight Facilities) and ABBA’s Arrival plays the boys on stage. The Darkness rhythm section waste no time roaring into the opening track Black Shuck. No sign of any impediment to lead singer/lead guitarist Justin Hawkins’ 5 octave range from the chest infection that cancelled the NZ shows a week earlier. Attacked with the confidence a red and black striped spandex catsuit demands. The Horden has gone nuts. I catch battle hardened photographers in the pit exclaiming a less family friendly version of "awesome". The penultimate Australian date and halfway through the world tour, the boys are on fire.

There is a set ritual and theatre to The Darkness show. Dan Hawkins (rhythm guitar) dressed in black leather jacket and Thin Lizzy t-shirt, deep concentration. Frankie Poullain (bass) dressed in a sharp suit and turtleneck. Props to both for not breaking brand on a hot summer’s day. Drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor almost shirtless. Justin in forementioned catsuit, indulging with all his signature moves. Leaps, split kicks, headstand on the drum riser legs marking the beat, a crowd walk. All the classic rock guitar god and stage heroics. The crowd, we echo back out of key unable to match Justin’s range, clap mostly in time, sing the choruses and often whole songs, wave hands in the air, bounce on demand and dance. We even put down our mobile phones after the talk (mostly). The girl next to me cannot stop saying ‘’I’m so happy’’ voicing the sentiment of the crowd.

The Darkness play Permission to Land in full but out of album order. They rocket through the set with ambition. For the set list checkers: Get Your Hands of My Woman, Growing On Me, The Best of Me, Makin’ Out, Givin’ Up, Love is Only A Feeling, Stuck in a Rut, How Dare You Call this Love, Holding My Own, Friday Night, and before the encore I Believe in a Thing Called Love. Radiohead’s Street Spirit, snippets of Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song and Heartbreaker. An encore in their loungewear. A swap of instruments and guitar tech Ian Norfolk joining in a repurposed Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight and I Love You 5 Times. Final song was always going to be Love on The Rocks With No Ice.

Blessed and cursed with a seminal rock album on debut. Let There Be Rock could have been one of the many anniversary shows rolling through Sydney for a last grab at the cash. The Darkness have shown commitment to this market, here every couple of years with a new album and a highly engaging show. This tour sees them stepping up from The Enmore to The Horden. and playing with the energy and urgency of a band not content with the cult band label. If you made the wrong decision to miss this show, odds on you will be seeing The Darkness at a stadium next tour.

I am hoping it will be a multi-night run at The Hordern instead. On their 100th birthday, the venue has shown its more than capable to host a mini festival. In a summer of cancelled festivals, this looks like the future.