The Black Keys at Brixton Academy

The Black Keys - Sarah Klinger -

I saw The Black Keys at the Astoria and they were excellent, so when I found out they'd be playing at the Brixton Academy, I bought tickets immediately. But as the band only has 2 members - Dan on guitar and vocals, Patrick on drums - I wondered how their minimalist set-up would translate to the much larger venue.

Now, in case you don't know, The Black Keys are from Ohio and they play dirty no-nonsense blues-rock. Their fifth album, the highly recommended Attack and Release, came out earlier this year. They are both superb musicians, and there is no posturing or prima donna rock-star posing here. Just two guys in checked shirts and jeans blasting out deep-south garage-blues for anyone who wants to listen.

The gig on the 12th of November was sold-out and by the time we got there, the Academy was buzzing with excitement and, of course, the bar was 10 deep. As I was queuing for beers, the house lights went down and the duo entered the stage to a huge roar from the crowd. I got back with the beers half-way through the first song, "Hold Me In Your Arms", from the excellent Thickfreakness album. Then straight in to "Set You Free" from the same album, and the approving crowd respond warmly, finding it impossible not to move with the beat.

As they worked their way through the set list, I marvelled at the musicianship. Dan looks like a fairly ordinary chap, but his hard blues-soaked vocals and extraordinary guitar playing meld together to form some sort of blues-rock demon forged from the likes of Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and Jimi Hendrix - surely their spirits are looking over his shoulder and urging him on. Meanwhile, Patrick's ferocious drumming is the perfect compliment to Dan. At times the bass drum sound was so powerful that I'm sure it was causing my trousers to flap.

I have to say, though, that I wanted the music to be louder. I found that the sound mix in the Academy didn't exactly favour the vocals, which often appeared a bit swamped. I'm not sure if this was due to the size of the venue, but when they played at the Astoria the sound was full-on and really very good. But here at the Academy I thought the overall volume level was too low and the vocals seemed to get lost on occasions.

The set concluded with a rousing version of "I Got Mine" from Attack and Release, and then a short pause before they returned for an encore with the crowd pleasing "Psychotic Girl" from the same album. One final song and they were gone.

It was quite an early finish - 10:30 - so we had time for a few more beers and, being in Brixton, a large portion of rice and peas from Judy's Caribbean Takeaway.

Marvellous all around.