The Black Keys took a four-year hiatus between 2015’s Turn Blue
and their new album, Let’s Rock
, and during that time, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach recorded an album with the Arcs and released a solo effort. Both are solid releases, but something about playing with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney brings out the best in Auerbach.
Last night in front of a crowd that filled about three-fourths of the newly opened Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Black Keys, Northeast Ohio natives who still proudly declare they're from Akron even though they've relocated to Nashville, delivered a hard rocking 90-minute set that suggested the break has really rejuvenated the band.
You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
With a little help from their friends Delicate Steve and brothers Zachary and Andrew Gabbard, who added guitars and bass to the mix, the Black Keys launched into “I Got Mine,” a raw blues number that dates back to 2008's Attack & Release
, to start the 21-song set. Four songs into the concert, during “Gold on the Ceiling,” a backdrop fell to floor to reveal a wall of bright spotlights and a giant video screen that dwarfed the band. The visuals added to the show, especially when the clips turned trippy and featured images of desert landscapes or solarized shots of the band as it performed.
A beefy bass riff brought a sense of foreboding to “Fever,” and Auerbach appeared to bait Carney into playing harder as he delivered the opening riffs of “Fire Walk with Me.” Constipated vocals distinguished the simmering blues number “Walk Across the Water,” and “10 A.M. Automatic,” a tune Auerbach described as “an oldie but a goodie,” benefited from grunge-y guitar and hoarse vocals.
During the bridge of “Your Touch,” Auerbach faced off with Carney once again as if to urge him on, and the song had a real edge to it as a result. A thick bass riff drove “Tighten Up,” and the band amped up the psychedelic blues of “Thickfreakness,” a song that Auerbach described by saying it came out of a “basement” in Akron, a reference to Carney's house where the band used to record.
“Little Black Submarines” had a Zeppelin quality to it as it started with an acoustic intro and then exploded into a blues rock anthem, and the set-closing “Lonely Boy” became a righteous sing-along after Auerbach encouraged fans to join him in the infectious tune’s refrain. The band would return for an encore that commenced with a rousing rendition of “Lo/Hi,” the first single from Let’s Rock
Veteran indie rockers Modest Mouse opened the show by playing an hour-long set that was probably about 15 minutes longer than it needed to be. While the expansive band that included multiple drummers, a percussionist, strings and the occasional trombone sounded sharp, particularly when it jammed, frontman Isaac Brock seemed too detached throughout the performance as he yelped his way through many of the tracks and spent an inordinate amount of time squatting to adjust his guitar’s distortion pedals. He gets credit, however, for skillfully playing the banjo on a handful of tunes.
After $185 million in improvements to the arena, the venue certainly looks better. The concourse walkways are now better lit, and the new atrium entryway has made the place feel more spacious. There are some additional bars, lounges and restaurants, and the new floors and fresh coats of paint on the walls have really brightened the place up.
But it feels like form outweighed function when it came to most of the renovations. We had little leg room in our row seats, and we regularly saw people trip as they walked down the shaky ramps that led to the floor. On the other hand, we admit that we found the “portal” signage directing you to your seats to be rather useful.
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