The Black Keys reach new heights at the Pavilion

A review of The Black Keys at the Bank of America Pavilion on July 31, 2010

, Contributing Writer

At some time or another, every band that becomes huge or at least very big, has a crossover point. Over the past decade, you can take Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire and even Wilco as examples of indie rock favorites who have taken their career to another level. The Black Keys could very well be the next band in the middle of their crossover point. Certainly their show on Saturday night at the Bank of America Pavillion, a huge step up in size from the club type shows they’ve been playing, showed a band that has a steadingly growing audience.

From the very moment they walked out on the stage, the near-capcity crowd was caught, hook line and sinker to the duo of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. At no point during the roughly hour and half long set, did enthusiasm or fervor waver. The show was comprised of a full set of classic two-man, blues-garage-thumping-classic Keys madness, with their new 70s funk meets hip-hop inflected four-piece lineup playing about 7 or 8 songs sandwiched in between. The opening, with just Auerbach and Carney on stage, played like a best-of show, in terms of crowd reaction, even though the songs were almost entirely pulled from the back catalogue, and the 8-track recorded, lo-fi garage-sound back catalogue at that. This decision to open with old material (they didn’t play a single song from their most recent release, Brothers, until 45 minutes into the set), shows a band with a lot of confidence.

The Black Keys live sound explodes with ferocity even greater than what is normally felt on their records. On “Girl on My Mind” the band pummeled through verse chorus and bride into a steady barrage of rock power, while “Set You Free” roared from start to finish. “The Breaks” found the band cooling off only slightly, and even then, cheekily, like they were waiting to unleash something even more fist-pumping. In fact, the Black Keys two-piece sound was so tight and crisp that when the full band ended the first part of the set with “Strange Times”, a Danger Mouse produced cut that finds the band foraying into slightly more expansive blues-rock, it sounded a little uneven and awkward in comparison.

Halfway through the show, Auerbach and Carney brought out bassist Nick Movshon and keyboardist Leon Michels to run through about half of the tracks off their recent release, Brothers. Many of these new tunes like the spooky “Too Afraid to Love You” or the sunny “Everlasting Light” featured real interplay between instruments, and slower, more tempered approach. The band managed to keep the ball rolling, even as the songs got less direct, and having new garage-rock flare-ups like “Next Girl” and “Howlin’ for You” to trot out certainly helped.

As good as this new version of Black Keys is on record and live, the minute they shuffled back into two-piece mode and launched into the opening bars of “Your Touch,” it was clear why they have lasted so long as a two-piece. They have a mixture of raw energy and streamlined tightness that can only be found in a two-piece format. Hopefully as they move forward into this new territory of a band with a large following, they can continue to deliver this level of intensity and feeling in their shows.

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