Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The other bluesy two-piece keeps it lean with a tight set

The Black Keys have quietly grown into one of the biggest rock draws out there right now. Sure, the White Stripes are still the household name when it comes to bluesy two-pieces, but each time I've seen the Keys it's been at a continually bigger venue; two Novembers ago at the Vic, last summer on one of the main stages of Lollapalooza and Saturday night in front of a rabid sold out crowd at the Riviera. But it wasn't until the show on Saturday that I felt they'd truly grown into a band worthy of their live following. They sounded as full as ever. In the rapid-fire set they blasted through just about every one of the up-tempo songs in their five-album portfolio with the gusto of a band that knows they belong on the big stage. The jammy (and often dull) tendencies they would occasionally wallow in in the past were nowhere to be found. With just a drum and a guitar, they played with the force of a quartet. Simply said, they came out for an hour and killed it.

Things started off with, "Same Old Thing," one of highlight cuts from the band's new Danger Mouse-produced album, Attack & Release. Danger Mouse's presence is perhaps felt the most on this song, as Dan Auerbach's sultry guitar riffs sound like something that could find its way in a future Gnarls Barkley song. It's a good crowd primer (though I was disappointed they didn't bring a jazz flutist out for those parts of the song; after all, one can never hear enough jazz flute).

From that they jumped on to rocking back catalogue standards "Stack Shot Billy," "Girl is on My Mind," and "Set You Free," before coming to the single from the new album, "Strange Times." The track is possibly the band's most polished and robust to date, but live they hurried through with overzealousness. It was almost as if they were so excited to be playing the badass song live, they forgot each other's tempo. That was the night's only disappointment.

The Black Keys are a band that has continually put out great half-albums; that is, four or five songs on a release are great, and the rest of the album consisted of the aforementioned jammy blues that I'd just assume not even bother downloading. But now that they've got five albums to pick from, they've been able to trim that fat out of their live shows and stick with just the tender cuts.

The biggest question I had going into this show was whether or not they were going to fill the big stage with sound with just to two of them, or if they were going to finally break down and bring on some help. With this new album featuring a hotshot producer, in which they brought in more instrumentation than they had on any of their previous efforts, I figured they would. I thought we'd see an extra guitarist or two, some keyboards and that jazz flutist. But nobody other than Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney ever stepped foot on the stage throughout the night. And not once did they sound like they needed any help.
— Jeremy Schnitker