I love this time of year. Hot sunny days, long warm nights, shorts and BBQs… And if you’re a music lover or Gig Junkie it means music festivals going off up and down the country every weekend. Of course there’s the biggie, the one every band wants to play – Glastonbury. By far the greatest asset of Glastonbury is it’s sheer power in bringing some of the worlds greatest bands to these shores. And whilst here why not turn one festival appearance into a mini tour and play a small handful of gigs in the few minutes you have spare. Taking this into account means that London, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham get the chance to see alternative Blues / Rock duo ‘The Black Keys’ before embarking on a full US tour.
This warm up slot this evening is given to Tennessee Indie Rock quartet ‘The Features’. Featureless is way too harsh in trying to describe them but if the pun fits easily then you have to use it, right? Wrong. The Features play exceptionally well, a couple of microphone adjustments later and the sound is almost right. It’s unfortunate that the sound and mixing for supports is usually turned down and not given the attention to detail that would bring the multi-layered sound of The Features to life. They play with energy and vigor putting on an edgy performance that’s visually stimulating and to begin with, comes across as being up beat and interesting. Sadly the interest stated to wane when it gradually hits that their set is just a bit, well… Samey. Listening to their recorded tracks gives a better understanding of their sound and allows the music to be fully appreciated. On this night though, the high notes of the keyboard drown out the sound of the guitar and the rest of the band leaving a good looking show but music that doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
There’s a lot been going on in The Black Keys camp this past year. First off, the Hip Hop collaboration album ‘Blakroc’ gets released too much acclaim. Now shortly after the release of their sixth studio album ‘Brothers’ there’s the distinct possibility of seeing Dan and Pat break away from their usual two man line up line up and play as a foursome. As a duo their sound is big, distorted and soulful. As a quartet, well who knows?
Predictably enough the lights dim, the crowd cheer and unpredictably Wu Tang Clan is clearly heard. Amid the backdrop of a clenched fist wrapped up in a dirt tire out walks Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. The noise from Dan’s guitar as it’s cranked up almost resembles a motorbike pulling away, the distorted riffs are unrecognisable to begin within but gradually they reveal tonight’s opener. ‘Thickfreakness’ gives a good indication that they’ll be playing a varied set from one hippest, most soulful back catalogues you could ever lay your hands on.
Dan’s rough sweet voice; an instrument in itself and when partnered with his filthy bluesy riffs almost makes you forget about Pat sitting alongside pounding the crap out of the drums. It’s only when I look over see him break a stick, nonchalantly throw it aside before pulling another one out and continue without missing a beat do you realise how hard he’s actually playing. Holding down a groove that’s so much more than a mere beat.
Midway through the set there’s a momentary pause as Dan voices an introduction. “Some friends are gonna come out and help. Don’t be alarmed”. This is it then. After all these years of only ever playing as a duo we’re going to see what happens when The Black Keys multiply. And honestly… I couldn’t really tell the difference. I could just about pick out some bass notes but nothing from the keyboard. It was only after seeing a roadie quickly flicking switches on the keyboard did I realise that maybe, just maybe there’s a technical problem. It doesn’t distract their playing though, just like the Titanic orchestra they carry on regardless. It was ‘Everlasting Light’ when you can make out the band playing as a unit and complimenting each other. Their sound as a foursome is so much meatier. The direction of the news songs carries much more of groove. It’s certainly recognised by the crowd, It’s as a foursome that gets them moving most.
Almost every break down in each song brings muted applause from the audience. Visually the crowds quite a mixed bag and easily categorized into those who love The Black Keys and those who simply love musicians who seem to be spending an eternity on top of their game.
It’s almost a surprise to see the quartet return for an encore, Surely they’d be one of the bands who are passed encores? Or maybe they saw it as a live practice session. ‘To Afraid To Love’ is introduced as a song they’ve never played live before. After the finale onslaught of the main set, the encore starts a touch flat. Although finishing with ‘I Got Mine’ see’s the duo finish with one last final sonically distorted thrash!
The album Brothers hasn’t been as well received as some of their earlier records but arguably it’s the new songs that get the crowd moving most. As a duo, the power of the sound they’re able to project needs hearing to believe. But when heard as a foursome, the Keys open the locks and allow the groove to come flooding right through.

Words by Lee Hathaway, email Lee
Photos by Bianca Barrett, email Bianca

4 Responses to “The Black Keys + The Features @ The O2 Academy, Birmingham, UK – 5th July 2010”

  1. Gobi Says:

    Excellent work, the images totally rock!

  2. Bianca Says:

    Thanks Gobi x

  3. Wayne Fox Says:

    These images are sick homie! :)


  4. Bianca Says:

    Thanks Wayne x

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