The Black Keys/Arctic Monkeys

Madison Square Garden, New York, March 22nd

Four UK Number One albums in, it’s easy to forget that Arctic Monkeys are not universally the success story they are at home. When they take to the stage on the second of two dates supporting The Black Keys at Madison Square Garden, the stadium is still filling up.

At least it gives the Monkeys something to prove. They kick off with ‘Brianstorm’, Alex Turner in a Union Jack T-shirt spitting, “We’re the Arctic Monkeys from High Green, Sheffield, England,” at the crowd in the break. Though the audience contains as many blank faces as fans, the band play with convincing swagger. They rattle off the old favourites, including ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and ‘Still Take You Home’. But it’s the big nasty riffs of ‘Evil Twin’ and finale ‘R U Mine?’ that show the Monkeys are ready to take America by themselves. Maybe next tour, boys.

There’s no shortage of swagger in The Black Keys set, either, but then Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have always played like a band who believe they belong in a stadium. The difference is that while the Monkeys plan on getting heavier with their next release, the Keys have gone pop.

“I feel like we’ve got the whole city in here with us tonight!” Dan drawls mid-set, one of the few times he speaks. Most of the 90 minutes are a lesson in how to get massive in America. The first half of the set is dominated by recent album ‘El Camino’. ‘Run Right Back’ and ‘Dead And Gone’ are instantly recognisable from their tight pop pulse, Dan’s riffs packaged inside producer Danger Mouse’s sharp arrangements. When the live band is dismissed, the Ohio duo loosen up with the splashy blues of ‘Girl Is On My Mind’. ‘Little Black Submarines’ turns from ballad to blasting rock and roll, the Keys’ fans dad dancing in the stands.

In the encore, no less than two huge disco balls appear, covering the crowd in specks of white as Dan coos ‘Everlasting Light’. It’s a glorious moment in the least intimate of venues, and the Keys carry it like they’ve been ready to for 10 years.

[i]Hazel Sheffield[/i]