Fresh from last week’s announcement that they’ve collected five nominations at this year’s Grammy Awards and currently engaged in their first bona fide UK arena tour, Akron, Ohio (they’re so proud they name the place on their T-shirts) duo the Black Keys have truly arrived in the big leagues.
Much like the White Stripes, their spiritual predecessors in the field of filling as large a space as possible with just the sound of a drumkit turned to maximum and a guitar roaring its way to the seats at the back, however, it’s not entirely certain that the jump up suits them.
In favour of guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, they at least haven’t come single-handed. While a fusillade of spotlights and the video cameras feeding back to the towering screens in blood red monochrome play across the pair’s faces and instruments, a bassist and keyboard player are semi-hidden in darkness behind them, beefing up a sound which admittedly isn’t that much different when the supplementary musicians take a break midway through the set.
They’re refreshingly unconstructed, which for many is a definite positive, yet at a time when the venomous spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is trickling down into the hands of youngsters who prefer to use electronic production gear, it’s harder for a guitar group to sound truly challenging or of their time, and not just like they’re taking out the Rolling Stones’ pension plan.
Where Auerbach and Carney’s early club shows were truly things of adrenaline-pumping wonder for their sheer raw energy, the same approach in this hangar-like space exposes the uniformity of what they do. Riff follows riff follows sturdy drumbeat, and although sporadic peaks like Run Right Back’s careening guitar and falsetto combination or Gold On the Ceiling’s macho grind are cause for communal excitement, mostly the reaction is one of static enjoyment.
It’s by no means an un-enjoyable show, with plenty of highlights in their own right including the breakneck "Your Touch", "Little Black Submarine’s" measured slow build from acoustic opening to electric finale and the gripping finale of "Everlasting Light" and "I Got Mine". Yet there is also a tired-out blues groove during "Ten Cent Pistol" and an unexciting venture into reggae-skank during "Tighten Up", both of which received polite concert hall applause where this band’s style might suggest they’re hoping to inspire primal howls of satisfaction.