The Darkness – Live Review – Leeds O2 Academy

The Darkness Live Review Leeds O2 Academy (3)

By Graham Clark, December 2023

When The Darkness made their first appearance at the inaugural Download Festival in 2003, they were almost bottled off the stage by a small minority of the audience. Their debut album Permission to Land had yet to be released, yet things were set to change very quickly: by the summer, the album had been released to critical acclaim spending four weeks at Number One on the UK album chart.

The band went from playing support slots to their own headline tours selling out in record time. Not surprisingly, the current tour, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the album, is also completely sold out too.

Within minutes of the first guitar chord being struck, lead singer and guitarist Justin Hawkins makes a direct plea to the fans to put away their phones and instead live in the moment and experience the gig through their own eyes and not via a screen. Besides, he noted “mobiles that record was not invented in 2003”.

The Darkness Live Review Leeds O2 Academy (2)

“Warm response”

The consummate frontman, Hawkins was soon confidently in his stride – by the second number ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ he was performing his trademark handstand. The songs off that debut album have aged well: for every AC/DC guitar style riff there is the flamboyance of Aerosmith all rolled into a combination that is still hard to resist.

Hawkins cajoled the fans, though he himself was taken aback by the warm response and the immediate reaction from the Leeds crowd. When he informed them that “Leeds, you are the best audience on the tour” you believed him.

Rather than play the album back-to-back a few B-sides are slipped between. ‘The Best of Me’ and ‘Makin’ Out’ are fine examples of The Darkness at their peak. With his brother Dan on guitar, drummer Rufus Taylor and ever-so-cool Frankie Poullain on bass, the quartet were a formidable force of power, precision, and perfection.

The Darkness Live Review Leeds O2 Academy (1)


When a fan holds up a home-made banner asking them to play their Xmas, song Hawkins and company willing oblige with a fake snow induced version of ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’, giving the fans an early Christmas present.

‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ is probably the song most people associate with The Darkness, and the evergreen number and karaoke favourite might have been better saved until the very end. Instead we get an overlong and drawn out version of ‘I Love You 5 Times’. Things got back on course as Hawkins rode through the audience on the shoulders of a security guard to play ‘Love On the Rocks With No Ice’.

Ultimately, The Darkness were as hot, exciting, and enticing as ever. Where they go from here remains to be seen. As ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ from Dirty Dancing was played over the PA, The Darkness left the stage – and the song echoed a sentiment that summed up tonight’s gig perfectly.

images: Graham Clark


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