The Black Keys

Alexandra Palace, London, February 11th

From [a]The Vaccines[/a] (ding!) to [a]Viva Brother[/a] (honk), it’s usually pretty straightforward to spot where the really big success stories and bigger fails will lie. But sometimes people slip through the net. Remember the phrase ‘You wouldn’t know a good thing if it hit you in the head’? Well, after 11 years and seven albums of them repeatedly slapping us about, the world has finally woken up and realised [a]The Black Keys[/a] are actually a very, very good thing indeed. And tonight’s victory lap (the last of a sell-out, three night run) only makes us wonder how the hell it took everyone so long.

The worry with this kind of grit’n’gravel stomp is, of course, that it’ll get somewhat lost in translation from the sweaty confines of the basement to the unforgiving surrounds of the big league enormodomes. In reality – and even battling against Ally Pally’s foreboding rafters – they sound better than we’d even hoped. Like The White Stripes before them (a comparison that’s both inevitable and deserved), Dan and Patrick masterfully fill the space without any need for unwanted polish or cheap tricks.

Entering to a monochrome stage scattered with photo studio-style lights and a gravelly VT of ‘El Camino’ graphics, the first half hour is a relentlessly exciting charge through the more recent end of the band’s arsenal. ‘Howlin’ For You’ stomps in, all nonchalantly sexy southern swagger, ‘Next Girl’ growls with bluesy laments while the glam-rock sass of current single ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ could make a party out of rooms three times this size.

Part two (having ditched their extra onstage bandmates) returns to the bare bones blues of old – the likes of ‘Thickfreakness’ and ‘Your Touch’ providing more visceral thrills and insane fretwork than we’ve seen since those other two decided to call it a day last year – but it’s slow-burning newie ‘Little Black Submarine’ that truly kicks things over into something special. And as rousing singalongs of ‘Tighten Up’ and ‘Lonely Boy’ round off the evening it’s pretty clear that, while it may have taken far too long for The Black Keys to get here, they certainly won’t be leaving any time soon.

[i]Lisa Wright[/i]