The Black Keys @ Manchester O2 Apollo – 6th February 2012


Over the past decade The Black Keys have been jamming their way through consistently applauded albums and a rigorous touring schedule seemingly ignoring any possibility of mainstream success. With an ever growing underground fanbase and continued critical acclaim, it was 2010’s Brothers album which suddenly thrust them into the worldwide spotlight, winning, amongst others, three Grammy Awards. And in 2012, the band, consisting of Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) now find themselves playing their blues rock in arenas all over the planet and headlining the massive Coachella Festival.

Tonight sees The Black Keys in the relatively intimate surroundings of Manchester’s O2 Apollo, the first of two sold out dates here, and there’s a definite sense of occasion in the room.


First up though we’re treated to an opening set from Southampton’s Band Of Skulls. A basic guitar, bass & drums threepiece, their sound is well suited to tonight’s audience, with guitarist/vocalist, Russell Marsden, delivering a succession of dirty, fuzzed-out riffs, complimented by a solid rhythm section. Songs such as Devil Takes Care of His Own and Death By Diamonds and Pearls suggest they have the potential to follow their touring mates’ rise to the mainstream. They just need a few more surprises thrown into the mix.


In so many ways, The Black Keys seem an unlikely band to be jostling for position as one of the biggest bands on the planet. Made up primarily of just two school friends from the obscure town of Akron, Ohio their brand of garage rock is exactly the kind of sound that the tabloids keep insisting is a dying breed. And yet, here they are selling out the UK’s biggest indoor venues with no sign of sacrificing the ideals they began with over ten years ago. They may have broadened their stripped down sound a little over the past few years – tonight they’re helped out with bass & keyboards on many songs – but they’ve managed to bring a timelessness to The Black Keys’ music which seems very modern whilst unashamedly celebrating its influences.


Beginning with Howlin’ For You from the aforementioned Brothers album, Patrick & Dan manage to build a set which never stagnates or becomes predictable. Lonely Boy encourages plenty of dancing from the 3500-strong crowd, its huge T-Rex inspired riff filling the room, while Little Black Submarine brings some subtlety back to proceedings before blasting back with another huge riff from Dan and a bombastic attack on the drums from his bandmate.


If there’s a complaint it would only be that there’s little communication with the audience. The occasional thank you and “That’s Patrick over there on the drums” but otherwise they leave it to the music to do the talking, but that music is in fine voice tonight. The Apollo has always been a great venue to see any band but it seems to particularly suit The Black Keys’ retro-modern interpretation of a classic rock formula.

As a four-piece, the band add new layers to the usually stripped down sound, but when Dan & Patrick are left alone, it’s the sheer power of tunes like Thickfreakness which impress the most. Girl Is On My Mind brings the evening to a fitting finale and our unlikely heroes wish us goodnight. Simply put, one of the best gigs I’ve experienced in a long time.


Words & photos – Steve Gerrard

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