By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
When the Black Keys last stopped in the area, they played a converted movie theater packed – but not quite full – with music geeks and underground music fans. Two albums and more than three years later, the Akron, Ohio drums-and-guitar duo returned to Kansas City Friday night before a sold-out throng of both hardcore and casual music lovers at Crossroads.
The crowds were different, but the set-up and arrangements for both shows were basically the same. With drummer Patrick Carney set up at mid-stage right, and guitarist Dan Auerbach at mid-stage left the pair delivered deep Delta blues filtered through several generations of garage rock. It’s Son House via the Stooges.
The pair kicked off with “Thickfreakness,” the title track to their second album, a thick slab of blues originally recorded in Carney’s basement back in 2002. The four songs that followed helped to explain the Keys’ boost in popularity. Although they’ve had no hit singles, several songs have been prominently placed in commercials, TV shows and movies. Ten years ago this was called selling out. Today it’s known as earning a living.
Whether or not fans recognized “10 A.M. Automatic” from “The OC,” saw “Set You Free” in “School of Rock” or learned “Strange Times” from playing “Grand Theft Auto” or watching “Gossip Girl,” nearly all of them sang along and weren’t timid with their whoops and hollers of approval. The band responded by egging them on, like when Auerbach teased a little bit of “Stairway to Heaven” in the intro to “Everywhere I Go.”
About 10 songs into the set, a bass player and keyboardist set up shop on a riser behind Auerbach. Although the number of musicians had doubled, the sound didn’t change too much. As expected, the songs were fuller, but the adding more players was really a testament to how much noise Carney and Auerbach make on their own.
Carney beats drums like they insulted him, but still coaxes subtlety from his kit. Auerbach can switch from bone-dry tone to sounding like an army of guitars with the simple stomp of a pedal. The auxiliary players were rarely able to penetrate this noise, but added nice nuances of texture when they did, like the keyboard part on “Too Afraid To Love You” that sounded like something from the Doors.
The sonic expansion also signaled the introduction of new material. Ostensibly in town to promote “Brothers,” the Keys’ sixth full-length album and best in some time, the quartet peel off nearly half of its tracks in succession. “Brothers” is less than a month old, but the crowd treated its songs with the same gusto they gave “I Got Mine,” a song played incessantly during last year’s baseball playoffs.
The Keys’ 2006 performance tapped out at 75 minutes, which felt like plenty. This time, though, they gave an hour and a half, and left the crowd wanting more. The expansion of their sonic palette delivered by Danger Mouse, who produced their previous album, and their foray into hip hop under the sobriquet Blakroc, tell part of the story. Auerbach told the rest in the lyrics of “Till I Get My Way,” the night’s final song: “don’t you know I will be calling on you every day/till I get my way.” The perseverance paid off.
Setist: Thickfreakness; Girl Is On My Mind; 10 A.M. Automatic; Set You Free; The Breaks; Stack Shot Billy; Busted; Everywhere I Go; Strange Times; Same Old Thing; Tighten Up; Howlin’ For You; Too Afraid To Love You; Next Girl; She’s Long Gone; Ten Cent Pistol; Your Touch; I’ll Be Your Man; No Trust; I Got Mine. Encore: Everlasting Light; Till I Get My Way.