The Black Keys, The Black Angels

Matt Harrold 27/02/2007

There's the normal pre-gig buzz hanging in the air as the small sized crowd kill time waiting for The Black Angels' support slot, and their blend of psychedelic drone rock to reverb around Shepherd's Bush Empire. Within a couple of minutes of taking a seat this reviewer has the man next to him introduce himself as Mark David Chapman, as in the man who famously shot John Lennon. Although for rather obvious reasons it's not the Mark David Chapman. Digressions aside, the wait for any sort of music what so ever, apart from the sound track being piped over the in house system, seems to take on the properties of time sluggishly making its way forward. Waits are never easy.

The Black Angels come on to a warm round of applause to tear straight into the Apocalypse Now of 'Dead Man's Shoes' whose “darker than thou” vibe becomes a solid wall of intensity when played live, an arse kicking way of subduing people with a wall of sound. Sadly though there's only a handful of songs in the set that it can be said were genuinely thrilling to hear. 'Black Grease' seemed to pick up a sexual undertow that was never there before whilst 'Sniper At The Gate of Dawn' kicked up the intensity early in the set.

It does seem The Black Angels were partly at the mercy of a really bad sound check. A lot of the time Alex Mass's vocals were lost beneath the sheer volume of the guitars and organ drone which robbed the slower songs of their power. Combined with a lot of the slower songs like 'Better Off Alone'
being mid set and you get a live gig that had a bad case of sagging in the middle and ultimately losing a lot of people's attention. Nor did it help that the lyrics to 'First Vietnamese War' seemed to have been changed somewhat to fit the current political climate, which is fine if you're a big band and people know your material well but The Black Angels need to get to that level first. To be fair there were hints as to just how good The Black Angels could have been with flashes and crystalline moments of blissful psychedelia, in what can only be described as a case of too many guitars in too shorter sound check for any of the mix to do the songs justice.

The Black Keys on the other hand are a totally different ball game. This wasn't a triumphant return to London, nor even a smug suggestion that they knew they could win the crowd over with their Ohio charm. To put it plainly guitarist Daniel Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney were here to have a good time. In turn making sure that the crowd themselves were feeling the vibe, in a flurry of cymbals Carney proved that the lazy White Srtipe comparisons were at best mote and at worst ironic. Meg White should seriously get some drumming lessons off this guy, his dynamics and playing
style were awesome to behold. One moment thrashing the skins like they deserved the kicking off their lives to suddenly dropping down to the barest sounds during one of the many breakdowns.

The only thing that proved more hypnotic then watching the drumming was Auerbach's own playing. Dancing about on the stage, long hair flailing about as he squeezed every last ounce of showmanship out of his being and though maybe not as competent as some of the pure blues players, his brand
of old school rhythm and blues certainly blended with Carney's drumming. Just going to show that more is not always better.

If you can ever catch them live then do so, unlike a lot of live bands The Black Keys bring their songs to life when playing live. Maybe it's the personality of the band members or just that their musical styles translate better then The Black Angels into a live environment. Ultimately though it's the reaction of the crowd that is the indicator of just how good a gig it is and on that note Shepherd's Bush was vibrating with the sound of wild clapping, cheers and the sound of people who've just had one of the gigs of their lives.