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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
THE BLACK KEYS The Forum, Kentish Town, London, October 4th 2006
Well they may still be picking cotton in Mississippi, but back here in London autumn has set in, chilly mornings, early evening gloom and cold nights. This time of year also brings a new crop of fresh-faced students to the great metropolis, and it feels as though most of them are here in the Forum with us. Neatly-pressed grunge meets GAP outfits, too much money, too much beer, and rather too much pop-eyed wonderment at the simple glory of being grown up like this.
Of course most of them are boys. And to a man (or boy) they are all closet, or wardrobe, or garage, or may I say even basement guitarists – even the daft ones trying to do a mosh pit thing at the front. Yes, this cool autumnal night is about newly-found maturity celebrated with the king of bedroom blues guitar.
the black keys
It’s the Black Keys. You know, the two-hand outfit that shot to fame shortly after that other two-hand outfit, the White Stripes. Actually I didn’t really know that the Black Keys had shot to fame, so was astonished to find the Forum sold-out and almost bursting at the seams. I thought the scene was dominated by Jack and Jill, the roots blues supremos of the chic and chi-chi city set, who of course probably only know roots if they’re in their hair and need colouring. So whilst the White Stripes have almost become Big Apple social accessories, like one of those irritating little dogs that always simpers and shits on the sidewalk, the Black Keys have clung tenaciously and obstinately to their ‘roots’ origins of Akron, Ohio. They are, as critics might say, stuck in the basement. And even worse, to those star-spangled North east metro-sophisticates whose knowledge of their own country finishes at the end of the JFK runway, the Black Keys are stoically signed to those wonderful people at Fat Possum Records in Oxford, Mississippi, where if I’m not mistaken, they might still be picking cotton.
Dan Auerbach presides over the evening with the bearing of a man who’s, well, to be honest, playing the guitar in his bedroom. He seems almost oblivious to the audience, and barely seems to communicate with sidekick Patrick Carney, though the two are as tight as ninepence. Technicians might like to know that his two Marshall amps, rather than facing the audience are very deliberately pointed to the side, heavily miked. There are pedals all over the place, at least one of which stalls half way through the evening. I think he’s playing the Gibson with the Bigsby – but hey, if you want to check up on the details of this stuff then just look at the ‘Guitar Geek World’ section on the band’s forum. I have a feeling most of the audience do.It was Auerbach, by the way, whose life was changed listening to a Junior Kimbrough album in, surprisingly, his room at college. And though the majority of their tunes are self-penned it’s an inspiration that the band are happy to acknowledge – indeed what better place to start if you don’t know them than their recent tribute to Kimbrough, Chulahoma. Of course it’s easy to stress the derivative nature of their work, as intense blues groove follows intense blues groove. You half expect that the next line in every song will be “Well I’m standing next to a mountain”, and in addition to Hendrix you’ll hear as many seventies bands in their tunes as you can remember.
Dan Auerbach  the black keys
Dan Auerbach
But this would do the Black Keys a great injustice – their music is nothing but twenty-first century blues. Auerbach is a prodigious guitarist (did I also say that he also has the voice of a blues angel?), and it’s clear that in a set that lasts an hour (to the minute) there’s nothing wasted, nothing thrown away. Apart from the pedal breaking it’s almost technically perfect – I know that from the detailed notes the bloke next to me was taking. The audience of course are almost at prayer – they’re as familiar with the old stuff (I would suggest that after Chulahoma you buy 2003’s thickfreakness, and then this year’s Magic Potion) as the new, and no Serge, I don’t mean they’re singing along, they’re playing along in their heads.
Patrick Carney  the black keys
Patrick Carney
Hang on, what about the drummer? That’s Patrick Carney, who is also a bit of a dab hand at producing albums too. Well according to the pimple-pinching pre-pubescents who occupy the Black Keys forum he’s a bit of a miserable bugger, because all he does is come on stage and play the drums. What do they expect – tap-dancing and jokes? Let me tell you, no matter how good Auerbach’s guitar and singing was, this show was simply blown away by the power drumming of Mr Carney. In fact it wasn’t like being at a gig; it was more like a boxing match. And the bastard won every round. It went like this. Bell rings – soft approach, squirrelling round the snares, some light cymbals, a slow but incessant foot pedal on the bass drum. Audience seduced into blues rhythm and great singing, caught unawares.First the bass drum intensity increases. Then, “Christ, how can he do that with one foot?” The snare starts to kick in and the cymbals are going off everywhere, along with the tom-toms. By this time the bass pedal is slugging in the chest every time, pounding away. Can I take it? Deep breath – yes – it’s hot, but it’s cool. How naive. Without warning the bass pedal triples in ferocity and the floor mounted tom-toms start punching and pounding at you like a veteran heavyweight moving in for the kill. On the ropes! It’s the quorum in the Forum. Too much.
Down and almost counted-out. Drummer Patrick rises, spits out water contemptuously as a scantily-clad babe circles the stage with a board pronouncing “Song Two”. An invisible coach massages his neck, “You’ve got them champ, you’ve got them.” At the end of the hour he leaves the stage without a look, impatient, knowing that his job’s not quite done. Encore – the final round – the Kentish Town Killer beats us to submission. Only then, only then, does he turn, grin, and give us one wave. Phew!
And Serge you know it’s easy to make jokes at other people’s expense (thank heavens!) but one of the best things about this wonderful evening was that we’re here in this packed old theatre, listening to nothing but the blues, and the audience, average age 23, is loving it. And for that I say thank you Black Keys, (and of course thank you North Mississippi Allstars, and thank you Fat Possum Records, and even thank you White Stripes). Buy their records, go and see them. Keep the blues alive!
- Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate and Cadd).

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