Survive and advance

by Ryan Snyder

There’s an angle to the origin story of the Black Keys’name, the one about the schizophrenic artist back homewith an unconventional way of calling someone duplicitous,that’s often overlooked. Consider the black keys onthe piano, those of two names but with one sound as the most empatheticmusic: the pentatonic scale, the essence and the pathos of blackspirituals and the blues.

It’s where the best music comes from, and onSaturday night at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte for the sold-out,final stop on their first ever arena tour, the name has rarely been moreappropriate.The bill for this tour was like something straight out of the Golden Ageof Rock: the impetuous, style-conscious Arctic Monkeys from Englandsupporting the austere, blue-collar Ohioans.

Neither really reinvents their rootsound — a reminder that rock in its purest sense has long since reached itsfinal stage of evolution — but with enough charisma and guts to overlook theoccasional riff recycling. This tour, however, was the Black Keys’ reward fora decade of dogged adherence to simply making good rock and roll.The Black Keys, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney,took the stage to the menacing theme of GZA’s Liquid Swords (or WillieMitchell’s “Groovin’” if you’re old school), choosing to relinquish anypleasantries with the capacity crowd. “Let’s get it started,” Auerbachstated rather dispassionately, but the duo’s collective crunch was anythingbut.

The knotty guitar reverb of the studio version of opener “Howlin’ forYou” was pared away, revealing taut songcraft set against beat machineCarney’s Hammer-of-the-Gods rhythms.The band’s 90-minute set was not surprisingly heavy on El Caminotracks, their multi-platinum 2011 release, but the ancillary focus on itsimmediate precursor Brothers suggested the band was in no small wayplaying for a crowd that wasn’t aware of them until Warner Brothers’licensing bonanza of 2010.

Absent from the set entirely was their awesomelyprimitive album Thickfreakness, though a passing reference wasmade to the mediocre Magic Potion with the pedestrian “Your Touch.”Likewise with Rubber Factory, where the gutbucket romp “Girl is OnMy Mind” ruled mid-set.That said, the El Camino material is tremendous live. No shocker thatit’s their biggest hit; the album is a melting pot of contemporary rockinfluence.

The duo have always been skilled appropriators, here bandyingabout arena-sized glam rock with “Gold On the Ceiling” and trashygrooves like “Money Maker.” It’s a record built for dancing, and noone in the building seemed to need any prodding in that regard. It’s 100percent delicious devil’s music, something to which anyone who scoredthe amazing silkscreen tour poster by Emek (and isn’t hawking on eBayfor currently around $200) can identify.

There are obvious benefits for the Black Keys from such a successfultour. First, they’re made men. They might as well be the last pure rock,and especially blues-based band, to reach headliner status for a long, longtime. Barring an intra-band catastrophe, they’re not going to retreat fromthis level.

Secondly, they never have to do this tour again. The show feltrelatively short for a headliner, but given the ferocity with which Carneypummels his kit, there’s a chance it’s prescribed that way. What made itfeel that way though was the endless anticipation for particular songs thatnever arrived. “Hard Row” or their cover of “Have Love Will Travel”would’ve scratched that itch, while the repetitive “Chop and Changefrom the Twilight soundtrack could have been ousted without worry.

Butif history is any indication with the Black Keys, they will always be fromwhere some of the best music comes.