On occasion good times come wrapped in satin and skinny pants
By SHELLY CONE
I love a good rock song. Or blues. Definitely punk. Sometimes hip-hop. And on occasion, classical. I like a song that reaches out and smacks you on the backside prompting a surprised gasp. Music should make you feel something—alive. Other than that requirement I’m pretty lax on the packaging. It’s a good thing too because otherwise, just based on appearances, I may have never given some really good bands any bandwidth on my iPod.
Incidentally, good music sometimes comes stuffed in shiny skinny pants accompanied by a few high-pitched squeals. I’m talking about a U.K. band called The Darkness.
They had a hit in the U.S. with a song called “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” and honestly, like the rest of the world, I couldn’t decide if they were trying to be a parody band or if they were the real thing. Watching these skinny guys in tight shiny bodysuits—the singer nearly channeling Barry Gibb with a falsetto rock yell—I was surprised that the band’s music delivered quite the ass smack. They kinda rocked.
Fast forward a few years and my husband and I have been discussing where we should take our 14- and 15-year-old boys for their first concert. This was an important first for us, but we tend to place importance on some fairly whacky firsts. The first school dance? Meh. But the first time they mastered chopsticks was exciting. The first time they went to a Korean barbecue and we watched my youngest devour a fish like he was eating a drumstick—eyeball and all—was awesome. And we were proud the first time one of them spontaneously used Mandarin Chinese to address a kid in another cart while we shopped at an Asian grocery store. (I’m still waiting for the first time our kids learn they aren’t Asian).
We wanted their first concert to be a positive experience, something they’d be into, and of course something fun. So when I heard The Darkness was coming to the area, I knew it would be the call. Maybe. In reality I knew it could be fantastically inspiring and magical for them, or it could destroy the fragile musical foundation I had spent years brainwashing—I mean building—in them. After all, the band is a little out there in a way that makes you squint your eyes and scratch your head trying to figure them out.
Apparently, they aren’t meant to be figured out, according to the band. I interviewed Frankie Poullain, bassist for the group, prior to their recent San Luis Obispo concert at the Fremont.
He said that in the beginning nobody really knew what to make of them. “People don’t know if it’s serious or supposed to be funny. And we don’t really know either,” Poullain said. That’s promising, I thought.
Then he added that American audiences seem to “get” the band more than European audiences. He told me that European audiences have a history of dressing up like women in theater and other performing arts and entertaining audiences. And Americans, without that historical context, do less analysis and more rocking. In essence he explained that we simply enjoy the band’s performances for rock’s sake.
So I asked Poullain what this American audience could expect at the San Luis Obispo show, and he said, “Maybe it’s good not to expect. I enjoy it when my expectations are confounded. That’s something we try to do is confound expectations.”
Fair enough, I thought, but more accurately, I just wanted to pump my fist and yell “Yes,” because I knew it sounded like the perfect first concert. Secretly though I suspected as much, seeing as I liked the band from the beginning and I’m pretty adept at picking out music my boys will like, largely because I’ve programmed them since birth to like music that I like.
Under the misconception that they form their own musical tastes, my boys were a bit lukewarm toward the event the day of the concert. They weren’t sure they would like it and so they felt like they were only going in order to appease us.
It didn’t help that we embarrassed them, just by simply breathing. We took them for ramen before the show and asked stupid questions, like when I asked the boys the name of the soda they were drinking and pointed to the Japanese writing on the front of the bottle. That elicited an eye roll. Ron’s corny jokes nearly prompted a protest. Fortunately, we were only uncool until we got to the concert.
When Ron told me, “Take the boys to the front of the stage,” their eyes widened as if to ask, “You can do that?”
Ron bragged a little about my ability to get front and center. “Your mom once got past security and to the front of the stage at the Hollywood Bowl,” he told them. I’m not sure that was so much to impress the boys as it was to give me enough of an ego stroke to get out of my seat and drag the boys to the stage.
As I stood in the front row with my boys, the band didn’t so much take the stage as dominate it. Their music is pure lightning, and paired with the high-pitched vocals of frontman Justin Hawkins, they offer up a distinctive sound that’s infectious. They were dynamic, fun, and they totally rocked. Out of the side of my eyes I could see my boys nodding their heads to the music. At one point I caught a glimpse of my oldest son as his long hair briefly swept out of his face. He was smiling. Sort of.
For the first part of the evening I wasn’t sure if I had chosen the right first concert, but my fears were relieved when at the start of the second song one of my sons admonished me for not having my phone out. “Mom you should be recording some of this for Instagram!” he insisted. The stamp of social media worthiness is the ultimate approval.
(Originally published in the Sun)