The Black Keys with Cage The Elephant and Stone Foxes
Thursday April 14, 2011
The duo is dead. That fact hadn't occurred to me until about ten songs into The Black Keys set at Mesa Ampitheatre last night when I realized the band had doubled in size after a few songs and was showing no sign of shrinking back to the two-piece blues-rock outfit we all know and love.
Any why would they? The last two Keys records, especially the newest, Brothers, are far more layered than their gritty early stuff. I'm not sure the band could struggle through those songs as a two-piece even if they wanted to, but when you're selling out mid-sized outdoor venues in a few days, why would you want to? It's not like you can't afford to pay a couple guys to play with you.
Hell, you don't even have to introduce the hired guns. Keys singer Dan Auerbach didn't, actually, giving two shout-outs to drummer Patrick Carney but never formally introducing the other two dudes who have apparently been coming on stage with him for about a year now. They may or may not be named Leon Michels (keys) and Nick Movshon (bass) and run a label called Truth & Soul Records. That's not Wikipedia official yet, so who knows.
It's hard to believe that a decade ago the bluesy rock duo was such a fresh idea. The White Stripes, of course, set the standard and The Black Keys followed it. They weren't the only ones. Remember The Raveonettes? The Kills? Mates Of State? Dex Romweber Duo? Two-piece rock bands were everywhere.
Some of those bands (plus No Age and Matt & Kim -- duos of a different stripe) are still knocking around. But the standard-bearers, the Keys and Stripes, who will probably go down as the biggest rock duos of all time unless you count Pet Shop Boys, have moved on in their own ways, the former by growing, the latter by breaking up so Jack White can pursue his two other more traditional projects.
So, it seems fair to ask, were all these bands bassist-less duos out of necessity or choice? Two people can feasibly tour in a small car and get paid the same amount a traditional four-man band does. When they get big enough will Matt & Kim end up with a stage show something like Arcade Fire? I'm inclined to think things will go that direction for any band with the resources to do it -- meaning, to me, the duo thing is pretty well dead as anyone who can manage to go bigger will. Maybe that seems obvious to some, but when bands like the Keys and Stripes came out, it really didn't seem like they'd ever have use for a bassist.
Not that the Keys are any less impressive now. To the contrary, as they showed last night's oversold crowd during an hour and a half set that included great renditions of "10 A.M. Automatic" and "I Got Mine" they're probably a better band than they ever were. But they're also a very different band. The band that played a very good concert in Mesa last night for a bro-ish crowd that went bananas for "Tighten Up" is absolutely not the same band I saw play the Beachland Tavern back in 2002. This is, I think, a bit of a touchy subject for Auerbach, Carney, and some of their fans.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.