The Black Keys at The Marquee Theater

By: Joseph Golfen

Better than: A lot of white guys that play the blues. The Black Keys play without falling into many obvious 12-bar formulas and top the whole thing off with a dash of metallic feedback. They also steer clear of any of the Texas Flood electric blues which typically sounds derivative unless you’re Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The Black Keys announced their presence at The Marquee on Friday with a flurry of feedback and a crashing wave of pounding drums. There was no chit-chat or pleasantries from the two man band before they began their musical onslaught. They just took their places and banged out their own extra heavy, fuzzed-out version of the blues.

For pics from the show, check out our slide show: The Black Keys at the Marquee Theater

Guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney make so much noise when they play that you’ll forget there’s only the two of them onstage. Yes, they’ll remind you of The White Stripes or The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, but where those guitarist/drummer groups coat the blues in a thick punk sound, the Black Keys turn to heavy metal to keep their fire burning without losing the soul of the music.

Carney sat at his silver drum set banging so violently that he had to take off his glasses while his bearded cohort sped his way around the fret board creating a flurry of chords and riffs. The notes from Auerbach’s guitar were so loud and twisted with distortion that it sounded like it was straining The Marquee’s PA system. Even when he sat down at the Rhodes organ, it was so fuzzed out that it sounded almost indistinguishable from his guitar tone. Although he sang and shouted with intense passion into his microphone, Auerbach’s vocals mostly got lost in the mix leaving his words unclear and the melodies hard to pick out.

Because the Black Keys have such a distinct sound they tend to stay stuck in a rut without varying things up very much. Auerbach never changed his guitar tone away from a brassy fuzzbox sound, and Carney never stopped beating up his drum set. While this created a frenzied crowd of fist-pumpers and thrashy head-bangers, the end result was an hour set with every song sounding kind of the same.

A horde of screaming fans crying “encore” got the Black Keys back on stage to play some more tunes from their upcoming album Attack and Release including the lead track “All You Ever Wanted.” They performed the song much like it is found on the album, with Auerbach crooning and slowly strumming away as Carney manned a tiny drum machine and synthesizers until the whole song came crashing down in a flurry of drums and a blaze of six-stringed distortion.

Then as abruptly as they had arrived the Black Keys hit the last pounding note of their set, waved and left us with only a ringing in our ears.

Personal Bias: While the amount of power put out by just the two guys was impressive, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally break out a different guitar effect or add a piano player to break up the set a little.

Crowd Detail: The crowd ate this show up, shouting and clapping along, cheering after a particularly impressive solo.

Random Detail: Opening act Jay Retard was apparently too sick to play the gig but a replacement opening act was found in the form of a funky, Motown-spinning, middle-aged DJ.

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