I’ve liked The Black Keys in the past. When I first stumbled onto their debut album, The Big Come Up, I appreciated the stripped-down rawness on tracks like “Do the Rump.” But by the time the band got their Danger Mouse glow-up, I had gotten off the Black Keys train. You can only listen to “Tighten Up” play on the radio 1,000 or so times before you start wishing Skynet sent a T-1000 back in time to kill every white guy playing the blues from 1970 to 2019.
Still, I came to the show open to changing my mind on the boys from Akron, Ohio. It was clear people were still mad for them. The venue was jammed full of folks losing their minds and singing along to “Gold on the Ceiling” at the top of their lungs. Maybe if I experienced the joys of nonstop bluesy shredding in person, I would begin to see the light.
(Arrested Development Narrator: He did not.)
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I got to the venue in time to see Modest Mouse. I hadn’t seen Isaac Brock and company in concert before, but I’ve been a Modest Mouse true believer since The Lonesome Crowded West days. They were almost deafening live, tearing through “I Came as a Rat” and “Satin in a Coffin” with such force that Brock’s banjo-playing hit as hard as Iron Maiden riffs.
Augmented by two drummers, a violinist, and a full array of guitars, Modest Mouse’s live sound was thick and dense. An already-knotty song like “Dramamine” sounded even more tangled up live — kudzu vines of guitar chords that coiled and climbed over our heads.
While the band’s 13-song set (opening with "The World at Large" and closing with "Doin' the Cockroach") was solid, it was marred a bit by sound issues. Brock’s voice was practically drowned out for large portions of their set. His distinctive voice was audible, but indecipherable through the din of drums and string instruments. It was almost like listening to a Modest Mouse ASMR channel. If you peeled back all the noise, you’d still have a solid hour of Brock's muttering to enjoy before going to bed.
Coming off the high of singing along to “Float On” with an entire arena, I was ready and willing to enjoy The Black Keys’ headlining set. Taking a page out of the Weezer playbook, The Black Keys dropped down a blinking Broadway-style marquee of their name. It looked sick as fuck. I kinda wish I had my name put on one of these and had it lowered from the ceiling every time I walked into the room.
With Patrick Carney pounding the drums so hard you’d think each piece of his kit owed him money, the band launched into “I Got Mine.” Auerbach shredded in front of a wall of amps, topped by a pair of old-timey amps that looked like they fell out of the back of Jack White’s antiquing truck (complete with a pair of old TV rabbit ears crowning one of them). Behind Auerbach and Carney were two more guitarists and a bassist, expanding their sound from a single serving of fried chicken blues to a full-on bar rock turducken.
Like Modest Mouse before them, The Black Keys weren’t ones for theatrics or putting on elaborate stage pictures. They did have a projection screen behind them that played imagery for each song — so if you ever wanted to see a bunch of hazy images of eagles doing eagle shit while listening to “Eagle Birds,” this was your lucky day.
The sound was a bit cleaner and more focused for their set. Auerbach’s The Hangover vocal stylings cut crystal clear through all the rawk guitars. Carney’s palpitating heart-attack drums were the night’s musical MVP. You could practically feel the beats bouncing off your rib cage like he was hitting you with his sticks. But the show was dominated by Auerbach’s guitar solos.
Listening to him fire off one guitar attack after another, I could appreciate why so many old school punks hated solos so much. At a certain point, you can only listen to this kind of riffing before you say, “It’s cool. We get it. You’re great at stroking your nylon-stringed dick. Please do literally anything else!”
The Black Keys tore through a set that was heavily slanted towards their Danger Mouse years, playing one crowd favorite after another. If you enjoy beer-commercial lead-guitar shit, you’d probably love their show. Me? I kept wanting to go back in time and listen to Modest Mouse ASMR again.
"I Got Mine"
"Tell Me Lies"
"Gold on the Ceiling"
"Fire Walk With Me"
"Howlin for You"
"10 A.M. Automatic"
"Ten Cent Pistol"
"Little Black Submarines"
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Last Night: The Black Keys with Modest Mouse at Talking Stick Resort Arena
The Crowd: A nearly sold-out crowd of rock fans that criss-crossed all types of demographics. Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Xennials, future Waterworld extras — all were gathered shoulder to shoulder to watch Auerbach and Carney get their Blueshammer on.
Overheard: “Fuck yeah — chickens!” — One of the dudes seated behind me thought the eagles projected on the video screen for “Eagle Birds” were chickens and popped harder for them than a wrestling fan watching CM Punk feeding Vince McMahon into a woodchipper.
Random Notebook Dump: Has anybody ever written a blues song about getting the blues while at a blues show? It’d be such a perfect ouroboros of a song. If I had any ability to write music, I’d compose and record “Char's Has the Blues Gave Me the Blues and Now I'm Calling Everyone I Ever Had Sex WithtTo Warn Them They May Have It Too” and release it as the debut single for my alter-ego, Sunny Keith Moon.