14 Jun 2009

Hot Leg: Into the Light

+ posted by FlamingWhopper


Five years ago, Justin Hawkins was fronting the U.K.'s biggest band -- until he succumbed to the very clichés the Darkness were lampooning. Now, as he tries to kick-start Hot Leg, he's hauling his own gear, sleeping on floors, and trying not to make the same mistakes twice.

Steel Panther stride onstage around 1 A.M. at La Zona Rosa on the second night of Austin, Texas' annual South by Southwest music festival. The mock-metal band's joke isn't subtle: four guys with poodle hair and spandex pants performing foul-mouthed odes to fat girls, Asian hookers, and the primacy of heavy metal.

Justin Hawkins first encountered Steel Panther last year when he was in Los Angeles mastering Red Light Fever, the debut album by his new band, Hot Leg. That Steel Panther would appeal to him is both obvious and a little surprising. His previous group, the Darkness, also toyed with rock clichés, though never so blatantly. The Darkness' 2003 debut, Permission to Land, matched big riffs with Hawkins' outlandish falsetto on songs about genital warts and ping-pong.

Live, Hawkins dressed in flashy catsuits and played guitar while riding a stuffed white tiger. Back then, the band's insistence that rock was meant to be, you know, fun felt like welcome counterprogramming amid a landscape populated with self-serious mooks like Linkin Park and Staind. The album eventually sold nearly 3.5 million copies. The 2005 follow-up, One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back, hewed closely to the Behind the Music–ready script by being bloated, drug-addled, and unreasonably expensive to make. It also fueled a backlash that seemed to center on a meta-textual conundrum: Was the Darkness' indulgence in rock's musical, visual, and chemical excesses indicative of their sincere enthusiasm for said excesses or an ironic comment on them? More simply: Was Justin Hawkins just fucking with us all along?

Steel Panther present no such conundrum. As they launch into their first song, Hawkins weaves through the crowd until he's right up front, hanging his tattooed arms over the barrier at the foot of the stage. With his frizzy bleached-blond mop, faded Aerosmith tee, skintight tiger-print pants, and purple scarf, Hawkins looks like somebodyyououghttorecognize, though it's not clear many in the half-empty club do -- at least until Steel Panther's frontman pulls him up to sing the Darkness' biggest hit, "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." Hawkins does so with gusto, wrapping the mic cord around his hand and shredding on an imaginary guitar.

Since leaving the Darkness after a rehab stint in 2006, Hawkins' only U.S. performances have been guesting with Steel Panther. But here at SXSW, his prancing around with a hair-metal comedy troupe could be considered a strange way to build momentum for his new band, Hot Leg. "I don't care," he says afterward. "The whole thing about being taken seriously has never mattered to me. Those Steel Panther guys are fucking awesome. I see someone doing that and I just want to join in."

After the show, Hawkins is besieged by fans. He greets every curiosity seeker like an old friend, and every camera phone with an outstretched tongue and devil horns. When a bearded guy invites him to "do a whole bunch of blow and party" -- he responds with a polite smile.

The 34-year-old Hawkins is a man at a surreal crossroads. Less than five years after he headlined British festivals with the Darkness in front of 50,000 people, Hot Leg -- which he formed last year with guitarist Pete Rinaldi, bassist Samuel "SJ" Stokes, and drummer Darby Todd -- has toured the U.K., opening for '90s hard-rock footnotes Extreme as well as Creed castoffs Alter Bridge. Hawkins has spent much of what he made in the Darkness and has yet to secure distribution for Red Light Fever outside of the U.K., Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. (It can, however, be purchased online.) Their SXSW jaunt is being financed on a shoestring -- they're bumming rides to shows, borrowing other bands' drums, and participating in the festival's International Housing program, which arranges for foreign bands to bunk with local families for free. As Sue Whitehouse, Hawkins' longtime manager and on-again, off-again (currently off- again) girlfriend puts it, "He's at a really weird place right now. He's got fame without money. He gets mobbed by fans, then goes back to sleep on someone's floor."

Credit: www.spinmagazine.com
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Reassuring vet display. Link
2504 days ago

RT @etvapos: @DrBrianMay and @why don't you follow each other!? ;)
2506 days ago

Wowzers, Madrid folk really know how to make you feel welcome. This was a fun show. Right, home time for me :)
2506 days ago

RT @AlClarkofficial: Big cup game today, lovely weather for it. @jimbohuz @justinhawkins #NHTIFD
2506 days ago

@railcomjon soon, Jon, soon. 3 more shows and I get a little break. NHTIFD!!
2507 days ago

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