Review: The Black Keys heat up Manchester’s O2 Apollo – February 07

By Andrew Little and Karl Dyer

The emergence of The Black Keys as one of the hottest bands in the world is one of the more unlikely stories in rock.

Ten years ago, the two-piece’s lo-fi, blues-infused, garage rock debut The Big Come Up paled into relative insignificance when compared to their more charismatic contemporaries, The White Stripes – who had just released their seminal White Blood Cells album.

But from playing bars in their home town of Akron, Ohio, singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have gone on to become one of the biggest bands in America, selling out arenas for fun and bagging themselves a headline slot at this year’s Coachella festival in California – widely acclaimed as the world’s biggest music festival.

Throw into the mix the fact that The Arctic Monkeys – probably the hottest band to come out of the UK this millennium – are supporting the Keys on their next US tour and you start to get a picture of their draw in the States.

While their reputation may not have reached such heights this side of the Atlantic yet, they still managed to sell out two dates at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre this week and we at MM were lucky enough to get ourselves tickets to Tuesday’s show.

Famed for their heady, razor-sharp riffs and pounding percussion, the Keys launched straight into a full on assault, opening with Howlin’ for You and Next Girl from their multi-Grammy Award winning 2010 album Brother.

Without allowing the audience to draw breathe between songs, the duo – who were accompanied on stage by a guitarist and keyboardist – flew straight into Gold on the Ceiling and the rip-roaring Run Right Back from their new album El Camino.

While their later tracks seemed to create the biggest reaction from the youthful crowd, the best example of what the Keys are about came when the musicians left Auerbach and Carney alone on stage to perform some of their older tracks. The dynamism between the two in tracks such as I’ll be you Man, You’re Touch and Girl is on my Mind was mesmerising with the two feeding off each other’s energy.

Other highlights included Little Black Submarines, their massive anthemic single Lonely Boy and encore numbers Everlasting Light and Ten Cent Pistol.

Their set finished in style with bulbs spelling out ‘THE BLACK KEYS’ lighting up their previously plain back drop. A sensational finish to a sensational show.

Prior to the Keys, the crowd had had their icy cobwebs blown away by a great set from blues rockers, Band of Skulls. The Southampton three-piece have the enviable qualities of sharing a lot of similar sounds to The Black Keys. They possess the same unctuously heady, blues-fuelled guitar sound; the same thick, pounding drum style and even similar leather-laden wardrobes; but on top of this, they have the added bonus of the gorgeous Emma Richardson on bass and vocals adding an extra dimension to their music.

Playing a string of tracks from their forthcoming album Sweet Sour, including top 20 single The Devil Takes Care of his Own, along with favourites Patterns, I Know What I Am and Death by Diamonds and Pearls, the band proved a perfect support act but surely it won’t be long until they are selling out similar venues themselves.

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