It’s staggering to think that only ten months ago ‘The Black Keys’ played to 3,500 people in Manchester Apollo. After the success of seventh album, ‘El Camino’, they’ve taken the world by storm, being forced to up the stakes and suddenly perform to around 17,000 at Manchester’s premiere indoor arena. It wasn’t a complete sell out, but considering the short space in time between the jump in venues, it’s a tremendous achievement that can only progress from here.
The arena is plunged into complete darkness, apart from a white screen at the back of the stage which aids their entrance. The silhouettes of the two founders, lead singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney emerge from the light to rapturous cheers before taking their places at the front of the stage, even Carney, where it’s rare to see a drummer in such full and exposed view. Two backing instrumentalists settle to the rear complete with a selection of guitars and keyboards. Auerbach acknowledges the Manchester crowd before stating, “Let’s just get right into it!” Starting with the swaggering blues tracks of ‘Howlin’ For You’ and ‘Next Girl’, they swing into action with a blend of sounds that’s a vivacious cocktail of sombre Mississippi Blues, scintillating ‘Rolling Stones’ R&B, and the electrifying, raw energy of ‘Led Zepellin’. ‘Gold on the Ceiling’ causes the first real wave of crowd engagement, a track from the latest album that influenced the sharp rise in a growing fan base in 2012. The sea of people beneath me bounce like the rippling effect of a wave and it was great to see that modern rock music can still have the desired effect to a diverse set of fans from different generations.
Onstage, the band are in fine form as the guitar is played with such dirty romance and filthy potency. The keyboard mimics the wiriness of the guitar, becoming unique and original in the way it effects the sound and structure of each song. Patrick Carney on drums is mesmerising, playing with such energy and tenacity, beating them to a pulp at such rhythm and speed that it becomes a spectacle in itself, a diverse notion considering it’s either the singer/guitarist that usually holds the attention.
The heavy blues genre that all songs encompass provide stimulating images of either an all day booze session in an old western saloon bar somewhere in the deep south with nothing but a bottle of Wild Turkey and your own depraved thoughts for company, or music that sparks inner confidence and swagger when simply walking down the street or into any bar/club, creating a special glint in the eye that breeds a belief of magnetism for that precise moment. There’s little time for interludes as a bout of great tracks tumble one after another, mostly off their latest albums which propelled them from underground ones to watch to borderline commercial phenomenon, a label thoroughly deserved. The classic foot stomping songs continue with highlights being, ‘She’s Long Gone’ and ‘Little Black Submarines’ which is like their own ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in that it starts as a ballady type emotional track but then shifts into gear exploding into another perfect rock record.
Ending with a resounding, heavy version of ‘Lonely Boy’ where the guitar pierced ear drums, they were cheered, shouted and demanded to return for an encore, where they returned to finish with ‘Everlasting Light’ and ‘I Got Mine’. After ten years or so of building up a following at a slow but steady pace, ‘The Black Keys’ are only now becoming rock’s current best band, and it won’t be too long before their success takes them to similar popularity levels seen with ‘Kings of Leon’ in recent times. Not only do they sound great recorded, but the songs seem elevated live, sounding grittier and sexier onstage with heavy thundering bluesy riffs and drums that scream and perpetrate every conceivable emotional attitude. They’re such an important band for these times, hauling the timeless style of music from the 60s and 70s into the modern scene. If there was ever a band to restore faith in rock music and bring it to the forefront of people’s minds and steer them away from the current uninspiring chart scene then this is that band! With a support act booked for the upcoming ‘Rolling Stones’ tour, things will only get better for ‘The Black Keys’ and will only aid their journey to take rock forward in the coming years.
I Got Mine