Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Black Keys @ Scala, London

23 May 2006

The Black Keys

The Black Keys

It appears to have passed under the radar’s of the music biz’s movers and shakers, but tonight one of the world’s finest rock ‘n’ roll bands have rolled into The Big Smell. But then, doesn’t a quick glance through the dusty back pages of rock journalism tell of such hubris and the dawn of false gods before? You bet your ass it does.

London’s Scala has its own history of course. After surviving the blitz, and hosting the only true UK performance of Iggy Pop‘s original Stooges, a bruising encounter between modernity and private censorship closed down the venue for years after an illegal showing of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

But since The Black Keys gave up gardening for rock ‘n’ roll, the band /duo have slyly carved a 12-bar niche for themselves by throwing shapes resembling the silhouette of tradition but in a way that says time flows not in full-on forward motion, but in ever-expanding corkscrews. Unlike The White Stripes, there is no just-barely perceptible smirk of irony about all this retro business, but it ain’t no bad thing. After all, as a wise man once said, blue are the misty waters taken for granted.

While white boys singing the blooze may be nothin’ new under a delta sun, guitarist / singer Dan Auerbach’s skill in interpreting the same electrifying frequencies that animated the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker all those blue moons ago is not to be dismissed. Like his partner, the bony, bespectacled, water-guzzling drummer Patrick Carney, Auerbach is half-hair, half-instrument. And both are prepared to shake their barnets like they share salons with a flea circus to prove it.

To underline their century-hopping credentials, Akron Ohio’s finest export since Devo claimed they were not men, have just released a six-track EP in tribute to the late Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough and his legendary bar in Chulahoma. While their interpretations of Kimborough’s goin’-down-slow meditations appear here and there to occasionally bewildered moshers, the sure shots of that black keyed home-brew is the draught of choice.

Set You Free blisters and burns with every snare and bass-drum Craney summons into rhythmic service, and No Trust ( I fink!) pitches the thickfreakers in the audience halfway between a zestful mosh and claustrophobic pogo.

The Jimi Hendrix references are clear and present in many of Auerbach’s twists and turns around the fretboard, but what separates the Black Keys from plain old revivalists is the acknowledgement of the blues as cathartic dance music. As Hendrix learnt his trade with snappy soul bands, the breakdown of tonight’s Girl Is On My Mind is all rock ‘n’ rolled-gold Motown.

One of the promised new songs in a rare spoken interaction with the masses (well, OK the Scala isn’t the world’s largest venue), is Magic Potion, said to be the title of the band’s new album to be released in the Autumn of 2006. If Auerbach’s lone-wolf cry of “My arms are broken / there’s no magic potion” is anything to go by, the blues are more than just an affectation.

If you’re still not sure whether to take a flyer on the band’s fourth album , then take note that some Black Country bloke called Robert Plant was paying rapt attention in the Scala’s VIP bar. Maybe he was taking notes.

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