Review: Black Stone Cherry/The Darkness/Danko Jones – Cardiff

Late January and another quick blast up the motorway from Devon to Cardiff, for an intriguing double headline gig featuring two very contrasting bands, The Darkness, and Black Stone Cherry.

The arena is pretty full when the lights go down and openers Danko Jones take to the stage to get everyone warmed up, and boy do they do just that! The Canadian trio career through thirty minutes of energetic, vibrant, and catchy punk-tinged rock. Danko himself, snarling out vocals then stepping back to rip out some dirty riffs flanked by bassist John Calabrese who spends the entire set encouraging more and more reaction from the crowd. Drummer Rich Knox meanwhile holds everything together with a framework of tight but complex rhythm. They go down exceptionally well with the Welsh early birds and songs such as “First Date”, “My Little RnR” and “I Gotta Rock” get the reaction they very much deserve. Cracking start to the evening’s entertainment!

We had been warned when we arrived that The Darkness had bought “A lot of pyro” but that was a bit of an understatement! After the usual opening music, the band ripped into “Growing On Me” as a full-length curtain of fireworks cascaded down from the back curtain (and the next night of the tour set fire to the stage causing an evacuation!). Careering into “Black Shuck” and flames were shooting into the air front and back as Justin Hawkins, stripped to the waist from his delightfully OTT fringed green cowboy shirt showed off his physique. I have seen The Darkness live many times now, but this was different. Often seeming to just be there for a good time, with Hawkins acting the loveable clown, tonight they are a rock band grabbing the audience by the scruff of the neck and showing just how good they really are!

The set is a reminder of just how many classic rock songs they have given us; “Motorheart”, “One Way Ticket”, “Love Is Only A Feeling”, “Barbarian” all fill the meat of the set, and the crowd reaction shows just how much love there is for them. For “Givin’ Up” Hawkins disappears and changes into yet another of his collection of totally ridiculous catsuits and then introduces “Get Your Hands off My Woman” with a story about how it was their first single and was played by Radio 1 before they realised just how explicit the lyrics were. He then proceeds to demonstrate his party piece of a headstand on the drum riser, getting the crowd clapping in time with his feet. There is then a fun piece of crowd interaction where he does a call and response which somehow the crowd doesn’t quite understand, instead singing the next line of the song.

By now they are throwing everything but, or possibly including the kitchen sink at the show. Hawkins has a huge keytar, there is fire, fireworks, and smoke. Rufus Taylor’s drums are being battered so hard I can see the drum riser bouncing, Frankie Poullain on bass is as cool as ever and Dan Hawkins filling out the sound on brother Justin’s many adventures around the stage with aplomb. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” is the penultimate song and the crowd goes nuts, just a sea of hands before Hawkins introduces the last song, “But don’t worry it’s going to go on for ages” …”Love on the Rocks With No Ice”. He isn’t kidding as he, first of all, gets a tour of the arena on some beefy shoulders as he plays the solo and then the band draws out the ending of the show with over a minute’s worth of power chords, jumps, and accompanying flames. I swear the front row must have needed more than the usual amount of water just to put themselves out and treat the burns let alone rehydrate!

A curtain is lowered and Black Stone Cherry’s stage set is constructed. I have to say, guys, next time bring castors! Watching from the side as dozens of stagehands strained and puffed to move a massive drum riser into position without the aid of any wheels was somewhat amusing! They managed though and then added a series of stairs and ramps to the construction. Several layers were added to the lighting rig and we were good to go.

I have to be honest, after the extravaganza preceding, I was worried that Black Stone Cherry might come over a little flat. But not a chance! The lights went down and Chris, Ben, and Steve cast shadows on the obscuring white curtain. John Fred took his place way above them. The crowd roared their approval and the band launched into “Me and Mary Jane”. The curtain dropped and we were allowed into the pit. Cue near-disaster as in my rush of adrenaline I felt my knee give way and I had to hop/run to avoid falling over and wiping out some very expensive camera gear! Luckily I kept my balance and was soon in position to appreciate just how insanely powerful and tight these guys are musically! It is the perfect set opener and I am singing along with every word at the top of my voice whilst trying to capture Ben’s high kicks, John Fred’s insane powerful stick work, Steve’s flailing hair, and Chris’s grin.

“Blind Man” follows and I am losing my voice. Ben is everywhere. Up on that huge drum riser, running the full width of the stage to swap with Steve and just looking like the kid with ALL the sweeties and far too much sugar coursing through his veins. “Burnin” (so many shades of Blackfoot in the opening), “Again” (with sensational solo), and “Soulcreek” keep the pace and power up before another of my favourites, the more soulful “In My Blood”, which always hits me in the feels. “Out of Pocket” (a new song that hints at some great things coming) and “Like I Roll” are if anything a little bit of a rest before a run of songs that left me breathless!

“Cheaper to Drink Alone”, complete with John Fred drum solo (I will be honest and say that in a 75-minute set, I might have preferred an extra song, awesome as JF’s drumming is, but I suspect it’s a chance for the guys to get a drink and towel off after all the energy used by that point), “Things My Father Said”, now back to being the whole band onstage as opposed to the incredibly emotional version played by Chris alone in recent times, “White Trash Millionaire”, “Blame It on the Boom Boom” and “Lonely Train” make sure the audience stays at peak energy levels to the last note. We still have time for an encore though and the treat is the cover of “Don’t Bring Me Down”. A song that sounds almost written for Black Stone Cherry.

An announcement was made before the show that “Black Stone Cherry” are the second headliners for this summer’s Steelhouse festival. On tonight’s form that festival just became even more of a must-do (if that is possible?).

So, a double headliner and the obvious question is, “Who won?” Genuinely I wouldn’t be able to separate the two bands, The Darkness at their peak, showing just how underrated they are and how, when they really put the effort in, they are a match for anyone, and Black Stone Cherry for a simply stunning show of power, great songwriting, and sheer energy performing.

January 2023

Mon 30th Glasgow OVO Arena

Tue 31st Birmingham Resorts World Arena

February 2023

Thu 2nd Manchester AO Arena

Fri 3rd Leeds First Direct Arena

Sat 4th London Wembley OVO Arena

Tickets are available here.

Review and pics – Rob Wilkins


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