The Black Keys, Nottingham Capital FM Arena
Describing his influences, Pat Carney of The Black Keys once told me he liked "drummers who look like they're only thinking of killing the drumkit", citing Black Sabbath's Bill Ward and Led Zeppelin's John Bonham as prime examples.
He's learnt well: Carney himself seems hellbent on murdering his kit at the band's Nottingham show, assailing it with sticks the size of saplings while his partner Dan Auerbach darts about the other side of the stage, wrestling dramatic riffs from a succession of guitars.
Yet it would be wrong to mistake their dynamic muscularity for crudeness: Carney's beats are subtly sculptured to carry the songs as nimbly as possible, with particularly interesting bass-drum and floor-tom combinations, while Auerbach's guitar lines tug one's interest in the most intriguing of directions, via a striking breadth of tones and timbres. He's the first guitarist I've seen in ages - in an arena band, at least - to still employ a curly lead, rather than the usual wireless box. This seems to be a split lead, serving the three different amplifiers positioned like slices of toast in a toast-rack, allowing the sound engineer to mix specific blends for each song: this may be burly blues-rock, but it's by no means simplistic stuff. That much is implied by their road crew being outfitted in suits and ties, a nice ironic contradiction of the lumpen nature of arena rock shows.
The broader variety of sounds on the duo's recent albums has necessitated two more players behind Carney and Auerbach, adding bass, keyboards and sometimes two extra guitar parts, to replicate the interlocking riffs that make songs like "Run Right Back" and "Lonely Boy" so infectious. Each part is honed for maximum potency with minimum extravagance, a strategy that has enabled them to disinter that most dismissed of styles, the lolloping Glitterbeat boogie, for tracks such as "Howlin' For You" and the irresistible "Gold On The Ceiling".
The most underrated aspect of the band, however, is Auerbach's singing, his nonchalant blues deadpan lending character to each song, from the yearning wail of "Money Maker" to the weird falsetto of "Everlasting Light". His most haunting performance is surely the unearthly recounting of homicidal revenge in "Ten Cent Pistol", harnessed to a slinky, shifting arrangement as secretively predatory as the song's events. But it's the more crunching appeal of riffs like "Lonely Boy" that have the capacity crowd rocking madly, a tight mass of bodies punching the air with a gleeful assertion that, contrary to the impression given by telly talent shows, rock'n'roll is alive and thriving in the English heartland.
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