Black Keys vs. Arctic Monkeys
- By Hazel Sheffield -
- Mar 22, 2012
The Black Keys are in the midst of a cross-continent tour off the back of their 2011 album ‘El Camino’, which saw Danger Mouse sharpen the edges of their no-nonsense blues rock to create their best album yet. They also sold out the first of their Madison Square Garden shows on March 12 in 15 minutes. That’s faster than Justin Bieber.
So it seems a bit churlish that most reviewers have responded with surprise, even disbelief at how far they’ve come. Dave Simpson at the Guardian said the Keys are what you’d get if you “were to attempt to design a band guaranteed to be unsuccessful,” while Rob Hughes at the Telegraph said that their early days “didn’t exactly point to a stadium-bothering future.”
Well, believe it or not, the Black Keys have been bothering stadiums all year. They do so again on Thursday at the second of their Madison Square Garden dates, when the Arctic Monkeys step in as support. Yes, Sheffield’s finest – whose last album ‘Suck It And See’ was their fourth to go straight to number one in the U.K.; whose debut album is still the best-selling in British history – will be warming up for the Black Keys again later this week.
What do The Black Keys, a band in their mid-thirties who’ve ‘done an Elbow’ and taken ten years to make a breakthrough album (2010’s ‘Brother’), have in common with Arctic Monkeys? Aside from excellent taste in leather jackets, both have had to overcome expectations. Arctic Monkeys feared they would always write songs in the shadow of the big hits off their debut, like ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ and ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’. “We needed to move on,” Alex Turner told the Guardian last year. “"If only to prove that it weren't all about those 12 songs about the chip shop."
When The Black Keys emerged with their first album ‘The Big Come Up’ in 2002, they were often dismissed as a budget White Stripes – same blues rock influences, same Midwestern origins, same two-person set up. There were even rumours of beef between Jack White and Dan Auerbach. Though perhaps White is eating his hat now The Black Keys are selling out venues The White Stripes could only dream of.
Both bands have worked really hard to maintain their success. "We've put in more hours and driven to further-away places than anyone else we know," Auerbach told the Guardian. Turner, too, has talked about getting better at his craft and learning to take time over his songwriting.
Then there are their respective hometowns. Arctic Monkeys made no secret of their love for Sheffield, where most of the band still live, in their songs about deadbeat streets and cheap, sticky clubs. And the Keys, from Akron, Ohio, credit their hometown with affecting their sound. “There's nowhere to go at night. You have restaurants, basically. So, that sense of boredom probably did influence the album,” Carney told Interview magazine. For both, there was the sense of being excluded from the highlife of the big cities, of being on the periphery of the real action.
Not any more. When they step under the stage lights at Madison Square for a second time this week, both bands play in the knowledge that their legacies are assured.
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