There’s an angle to the origin story of the Black Keys’
name, the one about the schizophrenic artist back home
with an unconventional way of calling someone duplicitous,
that’s often overlooked. Consider the black keys on
the piano, those of two names but with one sound as the most empathetic
music: the pentatonic scale, the essence and the pathos of black
spirituals and the blues.
It’s where the best music comes from, and on
Saturday night at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte for the sold-out,
final stop on their first ever arena tour, the name has rarely been more
The bill for this tour was like something straight out of the Golden Age
of Rock: the impetuous, style-conscious Arctic Monkeys from England
supporting the austere, blue-collar Ohioans.
Neither really reinvents their root
sound — a reminder that rock in its purest sense has long since reached its
final stage of evolution — but with enough charisma and guts to overlook the
occasional riff recycling. This tour, however, was the Black Keys’ reward for
a decade of dogged adherence to simply making good rock and roll.
The Black Keys, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney,
took the stage to the menacing theme of GZA’s Liquid Swords (or Willie
Mitchell’s “Groovin’” if you’re old school), choosing to relinquish any
pleasantries with the capacity crowd. “Let’s get it started,” Auerbach
stated rather dispassionately, but the duo’s collective crunch was anything
The knotty guitar reverb of the studio version of opener “Howlin’ for
You” was pared away, revealing taut songcraft set against beat machine
Carney’s Hammer-of-the-Gods rhythms.
The band’s 90-minute set was not surprisingly heavy on El Camino
tracks, their multi-platinum 2011 release, but the ancillary focus on its
immediate precursor Brothers suggested the band was in no small way
playing for a crowd that wasn’t aware of them until Warner Brothers’
licensing bonanza of 2010.
Absent from the set entirely was their awesomely
primitive album Thickfreakness, though a passing reference was
made to the mediocre Magic Potion with the pedestrian “Your Touch.”
Likewise with Rubber Factory, where the gutbucket romp “Girl is On
My Mind” ruled mid-set.
That said, the El Camino material is tremendous live. No shocker that
it’s their biggest hit; the album is a melting pot of contemporary rock
The duo have always been skilled appropriators, here bandying
about arena-sized glam rock with “Gold On the Ceiling” and trashy
grooves like “Money Maker.” It’s a record built for dancing, and no
one in the building seemed to need any prodding in that regard. It’s 100
percent delicious devil’s music, something to which anyone who scored
the amazing silkscreen tour poster by Emek (and isn’t hawking on eBay
for currently around $200) can identify.
There are obvious benefits for the Black Keys from such a successful
tour. First, they’re made men. They might as well be the last pure rock,
and especially blues-based band, to reach headliner status for a long, long
time. Barring an intra-band catastrophe, they’re not going to retreat from
Secondly, they never have to do this tour again. The show felt
relatively short for a headliner, but given the ferocity with which Carney
pummels his kit, there’s a chance it’s prescribed that way. What made it
feel that way though was the endless anticipation for particular songs that
never arrived. “Hard Row” or their cover of “Have Love Will Travel”
would’ve scratched that itch, while the repetitive “Chop and Change
from the Twilight soundtrack could have been ousted without worry.
if history is any indication with the Black Keys, they will always be from
where some of the best music comes.