Right at the end of their set here, Danko Jones play “My Little RnR”. An ode to the music that they seem to embody. And note the wording. Danko Jones is very much a band, for 20 years or more they’ve been this good too. Seeing them on arena tours, as they are here, feels like a reward. Both for all that hard work, but also for the fact that they are superb. Danko himself has never seen a stage he didn’t want to be on with all his heart, “I’m In A Band” proves that beyond any doubt, and “First Date” leaves you in no doubt what its after, and “Had Enough” is the work of men that have never done that in their lives. The trio (long standing bass man John Calabrese and drummer Rich Knox are as filthy a rhythm section as there is) have no excess fat. Everything here is solely designed to rock. And roll. Plus if the power trio is always well-balanced anyway, then it is never better balanced than Danko and the boys. There’s enough people in the arena when they play to render the t-shirt in the foyer that says “who the fuck is Danko Jones?” pointless. Everyone knows by the end.
There’s that moment in every Darkness show where it happens. Justin Hawkins comes out in something that’s park catsuit and part mankini, gets upside down and does some weird stuff with his legs. There’s a reason for mentioning it. It’s because Justin Hawkins is a frontman. He’s not just a singer. He’s probably never been in a room where he wasn’t the centre of attention. I guess he’s also the reason why The Darkness polarise so much. I’ve always loved the band, and for 20 years they’ve been the same. They play “Givin’ Up” here – its line “given up, giving a fuck” would imply they ever did. Over 20 years they’ve built up a formidable back catalogue too. A lot of the set comes from the debut “Permission To Land” – indeed they kick off with “Growing On Me” one of its singles – but it’s always worth mentioning with the band that the other stuff is great too. “Motorheart” from their 2021 record, the ludicrous but ace “Solid Gold” or “One Way Ticket” are all worthy of playing arena rock shows, but it’s the “…..Land” stuff that gets the biggest reaction. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” and “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” (complete with the usual Hawkins rant about people filming it instead of enjoying the moment) and “Love on the Rocks With No Ice” are the lastr three for a reason, after all. During the latter Hawkins gets on a Roadie’s shoulders and is hoisted high in the moshpit. As this happens I look at the other three on stage, notably lead guitarist Dan Hawkins, in his Thin Lizzy tshirt and jeans and wonder if they mind being in the shadows? No matter either way, because the big stages are where The Darkness have always belonged.
Ben Wells, Black Stone Cherry’s guitarist, is always a bundle of energy and chat (he reckons it’s due to the bag of Haribo he’s wolfed down) but tonight he lists all the gigs that BSC have played in the second city. Starting at The Barfly (it’s now the Institute 2) it’s more than a nostalgia trip. It charts a career that has paid more than its dues to get here.
As ever, a disclaimer: MV has been at most of them over the last 17 years and probably owes the fact there still is an MV to the band (read my review of their live album for that) but tonight is a celebration. A celebration of music, of the group, of life. And its stunning.
From the second that “Me And Mary Jane” opens up, to the second that “Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO ends the show this is just proof that BSC are as good as there is.
Along the way there are some sensational moments. “Blind Man” for example, the ode to touring “In My Blood” and the new song “Out Of Pocket” are there amongst them, but there’s one that stands above all.
I was there, back in September 2021, when just after losing his dad, Chris Robertson played “Things My Father Said” at the Academy a few miles away in the centre of the city. In the 18 months or so since, its taken on a life of its own and it’s a song of such celebration, such emotion and such joy, its now universal.
It also helps, of course, that after that Cherry can in Robertson’s words: “fuck shit up” with the hat-trick of “White Trash Millionaire”, “Blame It On The Boom Boom” and “Lonely Train” – and I’d wager, right here, right now (to borrow a line from one of their songs) that no hard rock band beats that in an arena this year. None.
Which brings us to that encore. “Don’t Bring Me Down” seems to be the perfect BSC song too, filled with positivity and fun – and they bring themselves out in it too.
They always look like they love it. Many bands thank you from the “bottom of our hearts”. Whether I am right or wrong, I choose to believe that Black Stone Cherry mean it. There’s such a warmth in the room. I saw them play their second Birmingham show and they played that one just the same, just there’s about 8000 people more at this one. That is BSC’s gift and that’s why people keep coming back.