If there’s anything we’ve learnt from megabands such as Kings Of Leon and their ilk (yes, there IS something, hold on…), it’s that success comes at a price. Whether this manifests itself as a dilution of their product, ego trips, DRUGS HELL! or simple boredom, the road to the top is marred with multiple potholes. Ohio duo the Black Keys will have seen themselves on a slow, steady but notable rise from the bar-rooms of Akron to the Enormo-Domes scattered around the world, and with good reason. Their career has been one big come up from raucous blues-rock beginnings to a richer, pop, gospel and soul-inspired hue; capturing ears and imaginations of nearly all and sundry.
A broad spectrum of people filled Manchester Arena almost to capacity as the corporate money lenders in the temple charged £16.50 for three beers and a coke. Despite having recently expanded to a four-piece for touring and recording purposes, Black Keys’ stage set-up remains relatively simple; backing musicians sharing a raised platform crammed with all manner of instruments, with Auerbach and Carney remaining in close proximity out front from the start and throughout.
Introductions were brief. “It’s good to be here, Manchester. Come on!” hollered Auerbach before they all crashed into Howlin For You’. The song’s baseball park swagger served a purpose in setting the tone. Perhaps understandably, their set leaned heavily on their most recent (successful) material. Despite that, the audience began the night appreciative but seemingly reticent to get too involved. Such is the danger of having the Ben Sherman crowd show up at gigs. Black Keys did what they could to please ‘both’ kinds of fan. Pitch perfect recitals of Gold On The Ceiling, the eerie Ten Cent Pistol and the polarising moods of Little Black Submarines were displays of their abilities as songwriters and performers. In and around those three were a world-weary but speedy belt through Strange Times and a compact, squalling run through Sinister Kid, showing the drive that got them on that stage in the first place.
Returning to Kings Of Leon for a second (stay with me now), success and all its trappings made their names bigger but their minds smaller. Are they even together anymore? Black Keys have taken appropriate advantage of their public appeal; using it to grow as a band instead of making arses of themselves. It seems easy, doesn’t it?
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