The garage. A part of the American DNA where, in addition to parking the occasional car, inspiration and freedom can join forces. Last night I felt as though I had entered the world’s largest garage as the Black Keys transformed Barclays Center in Brooklyn into some glam-sized version of their founding car park in Akron, Ohio.
Though their original underground vibe is still there, arena-filling rock has since come naturally to the duo of Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, who’ve been doing it since 2001. Their blues sound has no trouble transitioning from humble beginnings to filling the Barclays Center on the first of two nights in a row as part of their Turn Blue tour. With eight albums, 14 years and seven Grammy Awards to their name, they have no shortage of content to choose from. The 21-song set featured a mix of older and newer material (and a cover of Edwyn Collins’ A Girl Like You). And they hit the stage running. Dead And Gone off El Camino got the party going.
After all this time, grungy guitar and drums still dominate, though some longtime fans may have missed their simpler sound, as the duo was fleshed out here with keyboards and bass player. But the transition from garage to arena does require some filling out, of course. And Auerbach is an accomplished producer, so his musical sensibilities are perfectly tuned to the sound spectrum that might elude others in such a venue. The additional musicians—bassist Richard Swift and John Clement Wood on keyboards—served to add depth to a basic and lean sound. Carney’s drumming was strong, but as always, he seems content to allow Auerbach’s guitar virtuosity to assume the center of attention. Carney seems fine to play the roll of a solid musician providing the beat and backbone of the songs. A raw and occasionally dissonant, raucous and big sound is their trademark. The interaction and glances between the two showed this is a product of a true collaboration, no matter whose stage presence is felt more.
Their stage set had a roughness to it. Initially a velvety curtain hid the stage. Auerbach and Carney were up front, with the additional tour musicians positioned behind. Cheers accompanied the dropping of the curtain, revealing a light and video rig that raised the energy level of the arena with a visual wake-up call. Projections were digitally degraded, almost as if they don’t want to look too slick and produced. Song to song, era to era and album to album, the setlist covered the gamut, and the crowd was game for it all. Closing with a rousing version of Lonely Boy and finishing with a three-song encore, the Black Keys left the crowd dancing towards the exits.
Photos and words by Robert Altman.