It’s a common dream for jam buddies to take their musical efforts from an after-school activity to a point where they can share their music with the entire world. Guitarist extraordinaire Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney of blues revivalists The Black Keys shared this same aspiration growing up in the small town of Akron, Ohio, just under an hour south of Cleveland. The childhood friends retain their youthful exuberance as they performed to a sold-out crowd at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Despite the fact The Black Keys performed the day in which its new record “Attack & Release” was released, the duo wasn’t afraid to play older material. But Auerbach and Carney decided to open with something new with “I Got Mine.” The songs starts with Auerbach’s wailing guitar accenting the crashes of Carney, seamlessly gliding into a blues lick that sounds like it could’ve been on a previous record “Thickfreakness.”
“Remember When (Side B),” also from the new record, sounded like a rock n’ roll classic with Kinks-like chord progressions. Auerbach’s commanding, heavily blues-influenced croon echoed off the more-than 70-year-old theater. His energetic, often-turbulent guitar work along with Carney’s minimalist-yet-invigorating percussion made the stage look tiny.
The Ohio natives employed the help of producer and friend Brian Burton, better known as his stage name Danger Mouse. One half of alternative/soul outfit Gnarls Barkley, Danger Mouse took The Black Keys’ infinite rock spirit and refined an already minimalist, raw sound.
Many of the tracks on “Attack and Release” turn the fuzzy distortion off of Auerbach’s amp. “Psychotic Girl” features Carney playing a simple beat while his partner strums on a banjo. The Keys are probably the only modern band that can put a blues spin on a folk instrument. The groove rides likes a Gorillaz track, another band which Mouse has produced for in the past. The band employs a small howling choir and skipping keys to this track, somewhat of an indication the band is experimenting in a different realm with this album.
“Same Old Thing” opens with distorted guitar mixed in with hand drums and a Herbie Mann-esque staccato flute. Aurbach’s sneering vocals are echoed and sound like an old soul jaded with a failing relationship; his obvious disdain is highlighted with collective grunts throughout the song.
“So He Won’t Break” epitomizes the entire record. The vocals remain truly soul-driven, but the guitar remains at a slight distance, leaving room for a xylophone and the Carney’s refined, laid-back style in this record.
The Black Keys take a slow, brooding turn in “Lies” where they evoke the spirits of Robert Pete Williams and Muddy Waters as Auerbach begs, “I want to die without pain.” If one were to close his or her eyes, he or she would conjure images of Louisiana’s Baton Rouge. The howling bridge keeps “Lies” haunting and honest, similar to a negro spiritual, that grabs the listener to the very end. And for that, it stands as the strongest track on the record.
New fans of the duo at the Wiltern were probably disappointed at the plethora of older songs performed.
“Set You Free,” “Girl Is on My Mind” and “Have Love Will Travel” kept the audience’s heads rocking-out and screaming out songs even though Auerbach frequently changed the vocal structures for most of the songs.
The band’s main focus was to entertain its fans. The only interruptions between songs was the guitarist introducing Carney. After each song, the spectacle-wearing drummer would immediately squint at the set list he picked up from the floor beside him. Auerbach coveted his guitar like a newborn, keeping it on his back while playing a song on keyboards and even carrying it off stage during a false departure.
After an unsurprising rendition of their popular single “10 a.m. Automatic,” the Keys ended the set with “Aeroplane Blues” whosedrawn out ending was fit for the show’s own conclusion.
For any fan of rock n’ rock, garage and especially blues, The Black Keys will not disappoint.