The Black Keys @ US Airways|10/9/12
The Black Keys have come a long way since their last performance in Phoenix a year and a half ago. They released a new album, El Camino, played prime time slots at Coachella two years in a row, and performed at a much larger venue last night.
The decision for both Black Keys and Tegan and Sara to expand from a two-person act to a full band seems to be a good one, as both musicians had their share of enthused fans.
The show wasn't quite sold out, which was surprising compared to the huge draws at Radiohead and Arcade Fire, but it was pretty packed regardless. The main sections were pretty full, so only a few poor saps were stuck in the nosebleed section. The Black Keys' set focused on its two latest albums, El Camino and Brothers, which find the band experimenting with new tones such as Curtis Mayfield's funk and fuller instrumentation. The addition of a bassist and keyboardist makes the songs sound even bigger live, from newer tunes like "Nova Baby" and "Dead and Gone" to old favorites like "Strange Times" and "Same Old Thing."
Can The Black Keys still hold their own as a two-piece at an arena show? Absolutely. The rest of the band left the stage for a few songs, leaving Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney to play "Thickfreakness," "Girl Is on My Mind" and "Your Touch" on their own. The songs sounded a little fuzzier and unpolished than the others, but the change was difficult to notice because they were old songs and the duo can still play them well.
The band changed the pace of songs every so often, and it was mostly a nice twist. "Everlasting Light" was a little too slow, but it was cool to hear a bluesier take on the song. The sped up guitar on opening track "Howlin' for You" more than made up for it.
Hearing the songs live really brought them to life. The band started with two songs from Brothers. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach said they were going to play a new song, and threw Attack and Release's "Same Old Thing" in the mix early on. This was followed by a couple of the catchier songs from El Camino, "Dead and Gone" and "Gold on the Ceiling" which sounded better live than on the record. The Black Keys' first few albums are ideally listened to on vinyl, but the last two are ideal for a big production with a full band and a large audience to watch.
A highlight of the evening was "Little Black Submarines." The song's tempo changes and growing intensity made it The Black Keys' answer to Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home." The song was also a great transition for the band to return, as Auerbach crooned about a broken heart and the crowd softly sang along, then the lights came up and the bassists and keyboardist joined in. The song has the intensity of a '70s classic ballad that was written decades later, and isn't as irritating like fans constantly shouting "FREEBIRD."
The band closed out its first set with a rousing "Lonely Boy" and returned as a huge disco ball slowly descended from the ceiling. Auerbach said his thanks and mentioned that it's been awhile since they've played a Phoenix show. "I don't know why we don't play here more often," he said, kicking off a slowed down "Everlasting Light."
I don't know if personal tastes have changed or if Tegan and Sara have actually gotten better. When I first heard the band, I dismissed them as whiny and repetitive. Sure, the songs are still pretty repetitive, but songs like "Walking with a Ghost" are pretty catchy and the new wave hooks made the band that much more enjoyable.
Tegan and Sara had more of a musical range than I expected as Sara (?) introduced "Northshore" as "a rock song with a guitar solo" and said she would "fake it." I included the question mark because in spite of googling, I'm not sure which one of the identical twins is which. In my notes I referred to them as curly or straight haired girl, so I'll err on the side of caution.
Our frontwoman kept relating their songs to music videos. She referenced Guns 'N Roses' "November Rain" and Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical."
"I know this is a Black Keys audience and you have a certain way of dancing. I know because I do too," said the straight-haired singer, introducing the synthed out new song "Closer," "but for the next three and a half minutes, humor us and pretend you're wearing a unitard."
Tegan and Sara Setlist: Walking With a Ghost Hell Alligator The Con Nineteen So Jealous Northshore Messed Up Call it Off Back in your Head Closer Feel it in my Bones Living Room
Black Keys Setlist: Howlin' For You Next Girl Same Old Thing Dead and Gone Gold on the Ceiling Thickfreakness Girl is on my Mind Your Touch Little Black Submarines Money Maker Strange Times Sinister Kid Nova Baby Ten Cent Pistol She's Long Gone Tighten Up Lonely Boy
Encore: Everlasting Light I Got Mine
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Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Black Keys at US Airways. Personal Bias: Black Keys were one of my favorite bands at Coachella. I've been listening to them in high rotation ever since. The Crowd: Dancing 20 and 30 somethings. Overheard in the Crowd: "John, do you have any more 'shrooms?" as the disco ball lit up during "Everlasting Light." Random Notebook Dump: Dan actually whistles during "Tighten Up," awesome.