18 Mar 2009

Hot Leg at the Academy, Oxford

+ posted by FlamingWhopper

Rating: 3 out of 5

Five years ago, Justin Hawkins was the biggest underdog success story in British rock. But after selling more than four million albums, his former band the Darkness fell from favour and dissolved in acrimony. Following a spell in rehab for cocaine and alcohol addiction, Hawkins dropped off the map while Russell Brand replaced him as the nation’s favourite ironic-Byronic dandy.

Playing with his new band Hot Leg in front of a modest-sized Oxford crowd on Tuesday, Hawkins looked fitter and younger than in his Darkness heyday. With his bleach-blond moptop and tiger-print leggings, he self-consciously summoned up the cheesy grandeur of 1980s pop-metal titans such as Van Halen or Poison. Likewise the other three band members, all sporting the regulation Sunset Strip poodle-rock uniform of headbands and scarves.

Beneath these cosmetic differences, Hot Leg do not sound significantly dissimilar to the Darkness. Although their songs are slightly less baroque and stadium-friendly, Hawkins still overstuffs them with saucy innuendo, shrill falsetto warbles and majestically incontinent guitar solos. Tuesday’s stand-out numbers, including a dynamic You Can’t Hurt Me Any More and a raunchy Whichever Way You Wanna Give It, easily matched any of his past hits.

Alas, Hawkins no longer has the budget to soar over the crowd on a giant white tiger. But even in credit-crunched form, flamboyant showmanship remains the watchword. His show incorporated synchronised pelvic thrusts, costume changes and a guitar-playing piggyback ride through the crowd on the shoulders of a roadie.

The amount of ironic distance that Hawkins brings to his performance has long been a critical sore point, but this debate is essentially a red herring. Dozens of rock legends, from Little Richard and Mick Jagger onwards, have balanced emotional truth with camp self-mockery. While no serious metal band would write a song called Gay in the 80s, another highlight, the crucial point is that Hawkins clearly loves this music even as he smothers it with wink-wink, nudge-nudge parody.

That said, Hot Leg need more roof-raising, floor-wiping anthems than they can currently muster. Surprisingly free of old Darkness tracks, this show was big on humour, but low on musical punch. Hawkins is a natural crowd-pleaser, comfortable onstage and impossible to dislike. But even the most heroically preposterous man in rock needs to take himself a little seriously at times.

O2 Academy, London SE10, tonight; Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Fri; Brighton Concorde 2, Sat; Norwich Waterfront, Mon

Credit: Stephen Dalton | timesonline.co.uk


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