At the Commodore on Sunday, April 6
Nick Marrs: 23
“I’ve been a fan of the keys for a long time now, and I’ve been waiting for a chance to see them play live. They didn’t disappoint me at all. The set was great, they got the crowd into it, everyone here was a fan. Dan [Auerbach] has to be one of the best guitarists I’ve seen. Man, he just rocked out the whole show.”
William Lansman: 23
“I never saw the black keys before. Actually, I didn’t know anything about them. I’m from Sweden and nobody really knows about them there. I went because friends were going, really. Did I like them? Sure I did, they put on a good show. The guy on the guitar was awesome, just crazy.”
Is it wrong to suggest that Dan Auerbach is something of a liar? Interviewed by the Straight a week or so before the Black Keys’ Sunday appearance at the Commodore, the soft-spoken singer-guitarist promised he’d be bringing more merch than you’d see on a Polyphonic Spree/Dropkick Murphys package tour. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, at the beginning of a gig that was sold out for months, there seemed to be a mountain of T-shirts. Unfortunately, long before the night was over, it was obvious that supply would be completely outstripped by demand, serving notice that the band’s days of playing to 10 people at venues like the Pic Pub are nothing but a grim memory.
“The Black Keys” in yellow psychedelic lettering on a blue background was good, but the brown number featuring the Great Sphinx of Giza was better. The must-have item, though, read “THE BLACK KEYS AKRON OH” in white capitals on basic black. That shirt proved that simplicity can be awesome, a perfect symbol for the Keys on this night.
There were many ways to measure how devastating the duo of Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney were over the course of a punishing and cathartic hour-long set. An easy one was the frenzied action at the merch table. Long before the end of the set it had been totally looted, except for a couple of lonely blue baby-Ts..
The love fest started the second the Black Keys hit the stage. In preparation for the assault and battery that he was about to commit, the gangly Carney slipped behind his kit and promptly removed his specs. Auerbach strapped on his guitar, stomped on his distortion pedals, and pile-drived into “Same Old Thing” off the just-released Attack & Release. On record, the Danger Mouse–produced track is duded up with Zamfir–issue pan flute and chain-gang backing vocals. Here, it was stripped raw and bloody and from that point on, the Commodore looked like an alt-blues roadhouse, where Bonnaroo beardos boogied next to pink-haired punkers, and frat boys did the white-man shuffle beside Pitchfork-obsessed indie rockers.
What immediately stood out was that the Black Keys weren’t just loud, they were also heavier than fuck. Auerbach was a one-man guitar army, as adept at straight-from-the-crossroads guitar wizardry (the intro to a stomping “Stack Shot Billy”) as he was at distortion-strafed walls of noise. He can also shift gears at the drop of a dime; one second “Set You Free” sounded like cheeba-dazed blues dub, the next it pulled a hard left to become a spirit-of-’76 punk rocker.
Carney was no less of a force, giving a jungle-boogie clinic in “Give Your Heart Away” and earning an impromptu ovation with his .44 Magnum–strength drum break in “Strange Times”.
Visually, the two were a wrecking crew, Auerbach givin’ er like he was part Smoky Mountains man, part Red Bull–buzzed monkey, and Carney coming on like Keith Moon channelling Animal from The Muppet Show. There may be only two of them, but the Black Keys couldn’t have been more captivating, whether marauding through the Delta on “Your Touch” or taking things down to a just-this-side-of-sunrise crawl with “You’re the One”.
So how great were the Black Keys, who’ve officially served notice that it’s time for the White Stripes to start looking in the rear-view mirror? Well, let’s just say that even if you walked away from the merch table empty-handed (note to self—do not wait until encore to buy T-shirt), you could almost forgive Dan Auerbach for being a liar.