How could a garage band – a duo, no less – rise from basement shows to stadiums? In the case of The Black Keys, who sold out Oracle Arena Friday, it’s the blues.
For many of the young pop and rock-bred fans who bought tickets, the blues is not a very familiar concept. While the music of vocalist-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney is not innovative – even the similar White Stripes came first – many in the audience no doubt felt like they had discovered something new when they first heard The Black Keys.
“There’s so many of you here, it’s kind of crazy,” Auerbach said early in the show before launching into “I’ll Be Your Man.,” a track off their 2002 debut album The Big Come Up.
Pretty much any of the Keys’ songs have the sound that can be heard in a Chicago blues club. That this was being played at a basketball arena is what makes this band interesting. Are the Black Keys an arena act? Judging by the crowd’s reaction, the answer is a resounding yes.
Here’s what hasn’t changed about the band since it began its ascent: The presentation. At last year’s Outside Lands Music Festival, the most exciting thing the Keys had on stage were some inflatable props. This time around, they performed with the assistance of a rudimentary projection screen and some well-placed lamps – the same set-up a band playing in a garage might use.
Auerbach and Carney walked on-stage without any fanfare, along with a back-up organist and bassist, and launched right into “Howlin’ For You,” off 2010’s Brothers, the album that launched them to new heights.
After a handful of songs with the backing musicians, such as “Gold on the Ceiling,” a track off this year’s El Camino, the duo handled the majority of the show by itself.
Older songs like “Tighten Up” and “Ten Cent Pistol” fit right in with new material like “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Money Maker.” They fit so well together, however, that they might not have been discernable to the casual fan.
One of a handful of songs that clearly stood out was El Camino’s “Little Black Submarines.” Auerbach and Carney began it acoustically as a duo and brought the other musicians back a third of the way through, for a straight-up rock tune reminiscent of Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane.”
New track “Lonely Boy,” which closed out the main set, included a brief but effective tribute to the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, who passed away earlier Friday from cancer.
Attendees to last year’s Outside Lands recall that the band performing on the main stage prior to the Black Keys was the Arctic Monkeys. They were the “openers” Friday. I use the term openers lightly because the arena was packed midway through their set, and many probably viewed the show as a double-bill.
The Arctic Monkeys performed their angular, posturing punk rock for nearly an hour. Highlights included “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” off last year’s Suck It and See, and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” from the band’s 2005 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.