Published May 10, 2012Sheffield's Arctic Monkeys are not the most skilled band ever. Their songs are all fairly straightforward, and whenever there's syncopation or an offbeat rhythm, it's like they all hold their breath and brace themselves. Frontman Alex Turner doesn't have much range vocally and bassist Nick O'Malley sounded out of place a couple times when backing him up. It also doesn't help that O'Malley and lead guitarist Jamie Cook have all the stage presence of table hockey players that lack the ability to swivel.
Despite their many shortcomings, Arctic Monkeys delivered a respectably high-energy set of garage rock and post-punk revival. Matt Helders rocked his drum kit with vigour, and Turner deserves credit for working his cocky British banter and for throwing at least one jump in there. As a whole, they put a fair amount of inflection on their music. They may have been monotonous, but they were enthusiastically monotonous.
While the Black Keys' style of garage rock is more bluesy and downtempo than that of Arctic Monkeys, the duo of vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney built on the established energy level throughout their set. The pair brought with them two back-up performers, who perched at the back of the stage and filled out the duo's sound to approximate their last couple records. They also came equipped with some eye candy. Positioned between ever-changing visuals, shifting between negative-space monochromatic camera work and Norman McLaren-like painted shapes, the Black Keys dripped swagger. Auerbach casually utilized more of the stage by himself than the entire opening band, his gnarly riffs burrowing deep into the arena.
Pulling from across their catalogue, the Black Keys' set had superb pacing. After sending off their back-ups a half-dozen tracks in, they took their fans all the way back to "I'll Be Your Man" from their 2002 debut LP The Big Come Up. As the help returned, Auerbach grabbed an acoustic for the intro to "Little Black Submarines," which was received by hundreds of waving lighters, sinking the hook deep as the band started up and Auerbach plugged back in to rock the track out to its conclusion.
By the time Auerbach announced they were playing their last few songs, the Black Keys commanded the crowd to get into it, and the audience cheerfully obeyed. The entire sea of people at the massive arena churned. Everyone there was moving, and chances are, most if not all were more than a little moved.