The Black Keys concert review

The Black Keys

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GET TO KNOW: The Black Keys

The Black Keys are a two-man outfit made up of Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums). Their music is often described as blues-rock, but the Keys stay away from many of the traditional chord progressions that are far too familiar in the genre. They embrace the low-fi, so their stuff generally sounds rough around the edges, but it’s quite clear that the duo likes it that way. Auerbach mixes in his distinct, lived-in vocals with his thicker than thick guitar, while Carney passionately pounds the skins. They are a productive band, having released four albums in the last five years, including Magic Potion, released earlier this year. In 2006, they also released an EP, Chulahoma, where they covered six songs by blues hero Junior Kimbrough. They dabble in funk, rock and psychedelia, never straying too far from the blues-rock sound made famous in the mid- to late-‘60s. In short, any beer-soaked roadhouse would benefit from having these 14 songs in its jukebox, but they can all be found at iTunes.

Let’s get to know the Black Keys…

“Have Love, Will Travel” - Thickfreakness
It’s a sign of a good band when they are able to take a song they didn’t write and make it their own. The Keys do exactly that with this track, which was originally written by R&B artist Richard Berry and later made famous when The Sonics covered it on their eponymous debut in 1965. This version features a much thicker guitar and a smooth breakdown as it approaches each verse. Every Keys virgin should give it up to this song.

“Till I Get My Way” - Rubber Factory
There’s that thick guitar again. That little riff will carry the song, with Auerbach’s vocals leading us to a brief chorus before jumping right back into another cascading verse. The guitar solo in the middle is short but effective.

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The Black Keys, a two-piece blues-rock band from Akron, OH, brought their act to the Avalon, after playing another L.A. club, the Troubadour, the night before. The venue was completely butts to nuts, so much so that it had to be flirting with a fire code violation. The band sold out back-to-back shows in L.A., a sign of just how popular the Keys have become. Coming from modest indie label roots, the duo recently signed with Warner Bros. subsidiary Nonesuch Records, home of Wilco and David Byrne. In the Bullz-Eye review of the Keys’ new album, Magic Potion, Mojo Flucke wrote,“…you have to be a lo-fi aficionado to dig the band in general, even more so with this record than before; it's as if the group decided to sound even more inaccessible now that they're on the major label after working four years to become underground darlings at Fat Possum Records.” Based on the live show, I couldn’t agree more.

The set list wasn’t exactly designed to win over new fans. Sure, the duo played their version of Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel” (a song made famous in 1965 after being covered by the Sonics) and the crowd’s (over)reaction made me wonder if they even knew it wasn’t an original tune. They also performed “Set You Free,” another minor hit from Thickfreakness, which newbies might recognize from the soundtrack to Jack Black’s “School of Rock” or from the Nissan Xterra commercial. That song, played back-to-back with Magic Potion’s “Strange Desire” – complete with its arousing solo from vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach – provided the most impressive moments of the evening. Patrick Carney’s drumming on the stop/start “Just Got to Be” (another Potion tune) took the song to a completely new level. In all, seven of the 16 tracks were from Magic Potion, and while it’s understandable that Auerbach and Carney want to play their new stuff, a couple of the more accessible songs from their catalog – maybe “Till I Get My Way,” “Hard Row” or “Act Nice and Gentle” (a great cover of a Kinks’ tune) – would have been more than welcome.

Even if the set list wasn’t ideal, the duo’s performance more than compensated. Auerbach’s oddly mature and soulful voice is the band’s third instrument – it’s able to cut through Carney’s skins and Auerbach’s own distorted guitar like a knife through refrigerated butter. Everything that’s on the studio releases – the sweat, the grit, the passion – it’s all palpable when the duo performs live. The Black Keys are one of those bands that you love to recommend to your friends, but you don’t really want everyone to be in on the secret. Then they won’t be your little discovery.

On second thought, maybe inaccessible is a good thing.

Set list:

Modern Times
Girl Is On My Mind
Just Got To Be
The Breaks
Stack Shot Billy
You're the One
Your Touch
Set You Free
Strange Desire
The Flame
10 AM Automatic
Have Love, Will Travel


No Trust
Just A Little Heat