The Darkness Light Up Tinseltown With Arena-Rock Flash

Chest hair, guitar solos, bell-bottoms and power ballads — delivered with complete authenticity and a knowing wink.

LOS ANGELES — “I know you’re not allowed to smoke here,” Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins said, “but do any of you have lighters?” The sold-out crowd at the Henry Fonda Theatre responded with a sea of flickering Bics. Hawkins then confirmed this gesture as the international cue for a power ballad by steering the British quartet into “Love Is Only a Feeling,” a mid-tempo tearjerker that opened and closed with his gargantuan guitar solos. The audience, raised with an inherent knowledge of arena-rock conventions, could do nothing but scream approvingly.

The reaction of Sunday night’s crowd was hardly unique. Hawkins and his bandmates (guitarist and brother Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham) have spent the last month storming Middle America, bringing the glamorous, big-time rock that alternative rock spurned back to the concert stage. Many seem to forget that ’70s and ’80s groups such AC/DC, Boston and Def Leppard have continued to rule mainstream radio, even as flannel shirts and rap-metal beats have replaced leather bell-bottoms and towering Marshall stacks in arenas. But Permission to Land, the Darkness’ debut album (which was certified gold during this tour), presents fans of epic, twin-guitar crunch and high-pitched screams with a fresh band of heroes.

And few enjoy the spectacle and its routines as much as Hawkins. He isn’t simply the lead singer, with a tremendous tremolo reminiscent of Sebastian Bach and Freddie Mercury. He’s also a David Lee Roth-like MC, cheekily chastising the crowd’s sing-along efforts and changing from one bodysuit into another (three costumes in all, each emphasizing his abundant chest hair). In short, Hawkins made sure that only the sourest pusses in the house weren’t enjoying themselves — and you can guess where he told them to go.

Inevitably, the show’s crashing finale came with the group’s breakaway radio hit, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” The fans shouted along with every timeworn line, sticking their thumbs way up in the air when Hawkins sang that “Everything is A-O.K.”

And if the encore’s climax — Hawkins riding through the audience on the shoulders of a roadie while peeling off the guitar solo to “Love on the Rocks With No Ice”— faltered because the band had blown out its Marshalls earlier in the song,­ so what? Even that seemed like an arena-rock trick worth turning up for.

For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.