The Black Keys prove they've come a long way in Vancouver
At Rogers Arena on Wednesday, May 9
The Black Keys’ transition from humble blues duo to insanely famous arena rock demigods has been years in the making, past Vancouver shows having seen the band play increasingly spacious venues. Singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney started at the now-defunct Pic Pub, moved up to the Red Room, Richard’s on Richards, and the Commodore, and then graduated to the Orpheum in 2010 to Deer Lake Park in 2011.
Still, it was a little peculiar to see the Keys in a headlining set at Rogers Arena, their faces projected on the massive screens that loomed at the back of the stage. Was this really the same Akron, Ohio outfit that once specialized in basement-brewed blues and seemed destined to spend its career in the shadow of the White Stripes? Even though the band’s primal style may have originally been designed for beer-soaked rock clubs, Wednesday night’s proceedings showed that the group is equally adept at enthralling a stadium.
Of course, one of the benefits of playing arena shows is that you can afford to bring along a big-name opening act, and the Black Keys struck gold when they landed Arctic Monkeys. These four British lads are no strangers to stadiums, having played plenty of them back in their homeland, so they looked understandably at-ease when they sauntered on stage to the strains of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It).”
Despite the Monkeys’ apparent nonchalance, it took them a few songs to get into the swing of things, something that had a lot to do with the fact that many fans were still making their way to their seats. The energy lifted considerably as the room filled up, and strutting frontman Alex Turner gave everyone a taste of his crass English humour during “Evil Twin,” when he ordered onlookers, “Clap your hands, Vancouver, don’t be a dick about it.” Naturally, just about everyone complied.
The Black Keys, on the other hand, proved themselves to be far more mild-mannered. Auerbach came across as the consummate everyman thanks to between-song banter that consisted almost entirely of conversational pleasantries like “How ya doin’?” and “How ‘bout them Arctic Monkeys?”
Thankfully, the band’s politeness didn’t carry over into its music, and the opening one-two punch of “Howlin’ for You” and “Next Girl” got things of to a snarling and unapologetically noisy start. Auerbach fired off screeching, eardrum-punishing solos on seemingly every song, while Carney pummelled his kit from its place at the front of the stage.
The two founding Keys were joined for most of the set by bassist Gus Seyffert and keyboardist John Wood, who helped them replicate the full-bodied arrangements found on their last few records. The sidemen temporarily exited the stage mid-set, leaving the core duo to tear through a stripped-down selection of deep catalogue cuts—one song apiece from each of the Black Keys’ first four LPs.
After that, the backing players returned, and things only got more captivating. The acoustic-driven “Little Black Submarines” resulted in a lighter-waving singalong, while “Ten Cent Pistol” inspired one kid near the front to climb onto his buddy’s shoulders, tear off his shirt and brandish it high above his head. The recent single “Lonely Boy” closed out the main portion of the set, and the floor quite literally shook during the thunderous chorus.
But it wasn’t over just yet. Before the encore, an enormous disco ball descended from the ceiling while another rose from just behind the sound board, and these produced a truly dazzling swirl of colours as the band eased into the slinky glam boogie of “Everlasting Light.”
Then, following the smouldering “She’s Long Gone,” Auerbach and Carney finished with a rowdy duo version of “I Got Mine” as a large bank of lights spelling out the Black Keys’ band name suddenly emerged above the stage. It blazed to life during the final crescendo, making for a thrilling moment of arena rock theatricality. If anyone still needed proof that this twosome is worthy of playing a venue as large as Rogers Arena, that definitely laid any doubts to rest.