Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney make an unlikely pair of rock gods. There is something alarmingly casual about the way they walk into the packed arena, briefly greet the crowd, and launch into a grinding and frenetic ‘Howlin’ For You’.
“Let’s get it moving,” Auerbach says, and movement is a key premise tonight. It is reflected in the band’s energy on stage and their speedy transition between songs. Auerbach’s American drawl and blues-based riffs continue on ‘Next Girl’, another rock ‘n’ roll track with a nagging chorus: “My next girl will be nothing like my ex-girl,” he sings while bobbing up and down rhythmically.
The Black Keys started from humble beginnings, in their home town of Akron, Ohio, after dropping out of college, but tonight their show reflects not where they started, but how far they’ve come. Graphics of an American road trip scene to match the cover art of ‘El Camino’ provides a backdrop, a string of lights swathe the stage and, with two additional members on keyboard and bass, the band have doubled in size.
Although their additional presence is welcome, particularly the distinctive keyboard work, the performance is most enjoyable when, in the middle of the set, it is just the two of them. “Let’s see if we can fill up this big old room,” Auerbach says. And it is remarkable just how well they do. Their feverish sound carries across the crowd, creating such a buzz it is hard to believe that they are manned with just one guitar and a drum kit. They make a lot of noise for two geeky-looking garage boys, and you wonder whether they need any additional support at all.
Yet, while the pair prove they have the meatiness to fill the arena, it is their more vulnerable offerings which are the most powerful. ‘Little Black Submarines’ captures the crowd, its sparse and simple acoustic arrangement and Auerbach’s poignant howl “everybody knows that a broken heart is blind” creating goose bumps across the arms of the still and intent listeners. Carney’s drums tap in sympathetically and the pair respond to one another beautifully, their instruments bleeding together with ease. The sound builds and the gentle first half is spliced with a louder, more raucous second section, as the additional members join in once again. The band are masters of mood and pace, controlling both to create a live performance so well engineered it feels like a story in its entirety.
‘Everlasting Light’ is the penultimate chapter. The set is bleached white, two disco balls drop from the ceiling and lights bounce around to create a rotating display like twinkling stars in a galaxy. It’s a gentle rock track that hears Auerbach switch to a surprising falsetto. Disco balls, special effects and showbiz-style lighting is not what you would expect from a band who are endearingly unassuming. But after a show that confirms they are one of the strongest and most consistently great rock acts today, The Black Keys deserve to bask a little in their glory.
Words by Ellie Bothwell
Photos by Rosie Wadey