It doesn't take a music journalist to point out that the Black Keys are officially the meat and potatoes for the modern day rock fan. Anyone pitted inside the belly of the roaring crowd at the Honda Center last night saw both the passionate fervor of an arena-caliber concert and the safe familiarity of a Monday Night Football game. Over the past decade, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney's career as blues rock brothers-in-arms has taken them just about everywhere a shy,Ohio-bred two-man band could ever dream to go.
Last night's four-chord riff fest in Anaheim was the last in a string of SoCal big box arena shows that included San Diego and double play in L.A. While it's easy to trip out about the fact that these guys have gone from clubs like House of Blues and the Glass House in less than a few years, we're not gonna waste time lamenting about how we loved their music way more back in 2003. Now that they're bonafide rockstars, it's pointless. You can't go back and it's clear that the band isn't very interested in doing so either. One of the few lines Auerbach kept uttering in between songs was “Let's keep it movin'!” Each time it felt like he meant it in more ways than one.
And move they did. With few pauses for audience banter (besides Auerbach's endearingly sheepish “Thank you so much!”) the duo ripped through about 20 songs that learned heavily towards their last two-heavily-lauded releases, 2010's Grammy-winning triumph Brothers and 2011's El Camino. They kicked things off appropriately with the buzz saw guitar line of “Howlin' For You,” a song that has always elicits strong comparisons to Gary Glitter's “Rock 'N Roll Parts One and Two.” Backed by bassist/vocalist Gus Seyffert, keyboard/ guitarist John Wood and a coterie of vintage amps, Carney and Auerbach faced a mostly packed house that bore a mix of tattooed greaser types, flannel-wearing teens and twentysomethings, and excited parents with kids in tow. Songs like “Run Right Back,” “Next Girl” and “Gold on the Ceiling” earned instant swells of praise that at times threatened to swallow the band whole, along with the stage that (as usual) felt way too big for them. At times Auerbach dangled himself at the front of the crowd barrier leaving Carney alone on a massive platform as he thundered with drumsticks flailing.
Sprinkled throughout the set were a couple choice cuts from 2008's Danger Mouse-produced Attack and Release, which Auerbach apparently counts as oldies-but-goodies. Though they didn't really dig into much of their legitimately old material (a three-song salvo of “Thickfreakness,” Girls on My Mind” and “Your Touch”), Auerbach seemed to give special notice to songs like “Strange Times” and “Same Old Thing” that felt more like a disclaimer. There were a lot of areas where, due to the energy of the show or the bands rush to get through them, that a lot of their smoldering bluesy flavor went missing.
At their best, the band was a perfect study in the execution of subtle dynamics, as exhibited in the creaky whispers and blustering choruses of “10 Cent Pistol” that gave an even more cinematic feel to the flashes of dust bowl Americana, Model T's and muscle cars projected behind the band on giant screens. Probably the best example came during the somber strumming of “Little Black Submarines” that felt like a direct descendant of “Stairway to Heaven.” In the crowd, scores of young faces were fixed on the stage, sweat rolling down their faces as Auerbach imparted the whispered wisdom hidden in the refrain “A broken heart is blind” before roaring into an electrified ending that had fans all the way back in the cheap seats leaping to their feet. The sight of young kids having a mesmerized Led Zepplin moment is always cool to watch, regardless of the setting. Add that to the tension release that erupted from the catchy whistle of “Tighten Up” a glowing disco ball light show during the encore performance of “Everlasting Light” and the rib-sticking soul of “I Got Mine,” and it's safe to say we got our fill of arena rock memories for the night.
Critical Bias: Having talked to Dan Auerbach in person, I still can't believe that man was involved in the making of a hip-hop album.
The Crowd: A more heavily clothed Coachella crowd.
Overheard: “I just want Patrick Carney to sweat on me.”
Howlin' For You
Sam Old Thing
Dead and Gone
Gold on the Ceiling
Girls on My Mind
Little Black Submarines
10 Cent Pistol
I Got Mine