The Black Keys (plus Band of Skulls) live at the Capital FM Arena, Nottingham
|February 10, 2012||Posted by Jeremy Dobson under entertainment, reviews|
Even as a faithful Keys’ head, I was surprised to see such a speedy acceleration from dense gigs to vast arenas. Surely it can be no coincidence that The Black Keys’ last three albums, all of which were professionally produced, have correlated with a rapid increase in fans and considerably larger venues? It’s as if their live progression has mirrored their studio life, in which they formerly recorded on eight-tracks in basements and abandoned factories. This isn’t in any way to diminish the accomplishments of the first four albums from this bluesome twosome, all of which gained a token play in the 21-song set list.
The supporting act, Band of Skulls, share a similar strain of bluesy garage rock with The Black Keys. Two of their best known songs, the sparse The Devil takes Care of his Own and the tight I Know What I Am, generated some reaction beyond applause in the immediate vicinity of the stage. Although much of the crowd didn’t seem to be familiar with many of their songs, one couldn’t help but listen in awe to the shrieking distorted solos of front-man Matt Hayward, an idiosyncrasy which complemented the predominantly riff-and-rhythm style of The Black Keys.
It’s this style that drives their live show: the opening number Howlin’ for You was propelled by drummer Patrick Carney’s primal beat and offset by the intricate guitar picking of The Black Keys’ other half, Dan Auerbach. The combination was enhanced by the two multi-instrumentalists for the tour, introduced to us as Gus and John. The effect was cool enough to belong in a 1970s exploitation movie – satisfying and repetitive rhythms teamed with Auerbach’s pining vocals singing of his “baby” and “little girl.” The beautiful thing about The Black Keys is that they hit upon universal and well-trodden themes of love yet never sound particularly clichéd or trite. Such relatable themes meant a lot of people were singing along; a relief for a band as anthemic as the Keys in a venue as huge as the Capital FM arena!
This full-band dynamic was used in many of their more recent songs, of which the jack-hammer riff of Lonely Boy, the relaxed groove of Tighten Up and the falsetto croon of Everlasting Light (perhaps their most popular hits) had even those in the seated rims of the arena dancing in the aisles, proving highlights of the show.
In the midst of more recent El Camino/Brothers material, Auerbach kept his solos tight, melodic and occasional, unlike some fellow guitar-god contemporaries. However, the knowledge that he was so capable made it all the more euphoric when he did cut loose on the squeals of recently announced single Gold on the Ceiling, or during the second half of the sublime Little Black Submarines, an anthem of heartache which had the whole crowd in synchrony.
During a four-song mid-section of their earlier material (sans supporting live members) Auerbach and Carney allowed themselves to flex their musical muscles. The meaty riff of Your Touch and the raw Thickfreakness pumped fresh adrenaline into the immediate audience and freed up the two principle members to jam as they saw fit. The early soundtrack hit I’ll Be Your Man also added a laid-back dose of simplicity and innocence into the proceedings.
Admittedly, though it felt like the arena should have gone into overdrive, the unrefined rock duo of their earlier albums didn’t quite resonate through the whole ten-thousand person venue. Still, they cut loose to create quite a display in their most organic form without the need of additional big screens.
Small talk to the audience was rare, no bad move since they aren’t big personalities but instead big musicians and as such they allowed their songs to do the talking for them. For example, Auerbach’s infectious maraca-waving head-wobbling jig in Chop and Change and the tireless stamina of Carney during She’s Long Gone, played as part of the encore, all managed to garner the crowd’s affections. Likewise, the pause before the final chorus of Ten Cent Pistol held the audience in theatrical suspense in a “will they or won’t they carry on” scenario.
The extended jam of the final number, I Got Mine, again without backing members, was a particularly gratifying ending note. The pulsating riff intertwined with breakdowns, solos, false climaxes and a killer chorus seemed to be emblematic of The Black Keys’ aptitude for having a good time without the need for any pretensions above their station.
In fact pretentiousness isn’t anywhere on The Black Keys’ agenda. They dress and talk like recent university graduates but perform and play like rock and roll’s most recent virtuosos. In spite of critical praise of their studio albums their music seems to work best live and, as they entered their three-song encore, it became apparent that their tunes, like the themes they evoke, have widespread appeal and the capacity of the venue was no longer a burden. It makes it strange to think that their first gig, 10 years ago, was to just eight people!
Patrick Carney’s loose tongue said recently: “What happens when you become popular? You become the band that everybody wants to f***ing hate. And it won’t be long until that catches up with us.” But with solid performances like this, there’s little chance of that happening.
Setlist (concert highlights are written in bold):
1. Howlin’ For You
2. Next Girl
3. Run Right Back
4. Same Old Thing
5. Dead and Gone
6. Gold on the Ceiling
8. Girl Is On My Mind
9. I’ll Be Your Man
10. Your Touch
11. Little Black Submarines
12. Strange Times
13. Money Maker
14. Chop and Change
15. Nova Baby
16. Ten Cent Pistol
17. Tighten Up
18. Lonely Boy
19. Everlasting Light
20. She’s Long Gone
21. I Got Mine