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The Black Keys are no newcomers to Australian stages, but in 2012 – riding the irresistible wave of bona fide commercial success afforded them by seventh studio album El Camino – they’re filling seats and eardrums to a whole new level. Sydney’s Entertainment Centre can swallow meek performers whole, but not so this Ohio duet. These guys ooze effortless Midwest American style – from the Breaking Bad-esque stage setup to the tuxedoed stage hands; just by being there you feel cool by association. Top that off with a swathe of meaty new melodic tracks and soulful back-catalogue winners – deftly teased out of Dan Auerbach’s many pedal-heavy guitars and Patrick Carney’s non-stop drumming (seriously, he is a machine), plus shadowy support players on keys and bass – and the formidable space was filled, and then some.
Right from the first dirt-powered notes of opener Howling for You, a metre-thick wall of sound came hurtling from the amps and didn’t fall down for two hours. Slamming headlong into Next Girl, Run Right Back and a super-tight, solo-heavy Same Old Thing, the Black Keys quickly established a fast pace, cut perfectly with soulful woes and old-fashioned grit.
By the time the keyboard vibes of Gold on the Ceiling come blasting out, we’re already on the road trip – so grab your whiskey, don your ten gallon hat and light a cigarillo. These guys capture all the style of a backroom poker game, a side alley shoot-out and a desert car chase in every one of their tunes. Then, just in case we’re not sufficiently impressed, the backup musicians leave the stage for a spell and let the two Keys showcase just how big a noise you can get out of one guitar, one voice, and a drum kit. Girl Is on My Mind and Your Touch, then a wickedly toned-back first half of Little Black Submarines, demonstrated the full spectrum of talent on stage. This was followed by a slightly overlong guitar switcheroo and then the slamming home stretch of Submarines rounded out the second act.
A swarthy mix of old and new songs about love found, love lost, shady characters and shadier motives brought the set home, including Sinister Kid and Nova Baby. To close, the triumvirate of She’s Long Gone, Tighten Up and the inevitably massive and understandably well-received Lonely Boy, was the pudding proof of their modern success.
It was a pretty intense and generous two hours from right across the catalogue, delivered with panache and blistering talent. If anything, the encore break was a brief respite, but a gap quickly and ably filled by Everlasting Light (complete with gigantic disco ball) and a gutsy, manic and appropriately rock ‘n’roll finish with I Got Mine.
This is arena rock at its best, but it’s also modest, top notch music any way you cut it. And if, through all their massive successes in recent times, the Black Keys can hold onto everything that makes them the rough diamond they are, then they’ll be setting the pace of garage rock for a good while to come.
Photo by Ed Watson