The Black Keys at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 07/03/11

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Photos by Erik Hess
The Black Keys
July 3, 2011
Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul, MN


After the remarkably successful year that the Black Keys have had, they certainly have earned (and now require) a bigger venue for their raucous, garage-rock sound. Not surprisingly, most of the people that have packed their renowned First Avenue shows in the past (plus a whole bunch of new fans) followed them across the river to the sold-out Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul on Saturday night for the Akron duos biggest local show yet. And while the intimacy and adventurousness of their past shows was sacrificed during their carefully planned, 75-minute set in the cavernous arena, the boys still brought enough of the goods to send nearly everyone home happy.

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney strode onto their relatively spartan stage set and kicked off their show with a spirited batch of old tunes that was augmented only by a bunch of blinding floodlights at the start. Their initial focus on their older material perhaps caught fans of Brothers who egregiously haven't chosen to dig deeper into their back catalog a bit by surprise, while pleasing their older, longtime fans.

But instead of smoothly flowing from one song into the next as the Black Keys have done in the past, there were longer breaks between tracks to allow for the countless ovations from the crowd, as well as providing time for their stage set to grow more elaborate as the evening went on (projection screens were raised and lowered behind the band, a disco ball dropped overhead, and even their band name was spelled out in big, bright lights by the end of the night). It killed a lot of the momentum that was built up by their volatile, bluesy tunes, and did away with the tempestuous spontaneity that drove a lot of their earlier shows and made them memorable.

Their songs are still killer, especially live, so "Girl Is On My Mind" (which featured a slow, mercurial breakdown towards the end), "Stack Shot Billy," and "Busted" all caught fire despite the vast, echoey surroundings. But their ponderous cover of the Kinks classic "Act Nice And Gentle" featured a bunch of lyrical flubs from Auerbach, and really slowed things down.

Surprisingly, things initially didn't pick up once the duo brought out bassist John Wood and keyboardist Gus Seyffert to help out with the Brothers material (even with the assistance of the aforementioned disco ball), as they group played a plodding version of "Everlasting Light" that never took off. "Next Girl," which featured dancing girls on projection screens behind the band, lit a spark, but the momentum was slowed by the 60s sounding keyboards that were featured in "Chop And Change." It ultimately proved to be a frustratingly uneven set filled with equal amounts of highs and lows.

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Photos by Erik Hess

Things picked back up again with a run of three of the strongest songs of the night: a spirited version of "Howlin' For You," a blazing rendition of "Tighten Up," and an explosive run through "She's Long Gone." But unfortunately, a tepid version of "Ten Cent Pistol" dragged the show back down, as did an uneven rendition of "I'll Be Your Man" after Wood and Seyffert left the stage.

Even Auerbach sensed that things had shifted a bit as he introduced "I Got Mine," instructing the somewhat tame crowd: "This is our last song, so if you wanted to stand up, now would be a good time to do it." And, with the entire auditorium finally on their feet for the first time during the performance, the song truly took flight and ended the set on a real high (complete with the Black Keys spelled out in massive lights behind the stage).

Those lights got the crowd chanting the band's name during the brief encore break, and as all four of them returned to the stage to a loud ovation, everyone remained on their feet for a moody take on "Sinister Kid" that sadly never quite got going, despite the crowd's full support. But, after being reduced back to the original duo once again, Auerbach and Carney got the kids moving on a potent rendition of "Your Touch" that closed the night strongly. Things are only looking up for the Black Keys at the moment, and I wish nothing but continued success to them. But I just don't feel that the bigger venues suit their sound or their style all that well, and I sincerely miss their legendary shows down at the corner of 7th and First.

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Photos by Erik Hess
Openers Cage the Elephant

Critic's Bias: This was my ninth time seeing the Black Keys, and this was by far the tamest, most by-the-numbers performance I've seen yet from the guys.

The Crowd: It seemed to be an even mix of old school fans with a lot of new listeners who were seeing them for the first time.

Overheard In The Crowd: "No, I've never seen them live before."--I heard this many times while walking in and around the venue.

Random Notebook Dump: Cage the Elephant were one of the worst opening bands I've heard in a while. They were so terrible that I couldn't even take my seat to watch their set--their music was just excruciatingly bad. Even an old guy working at the merch stand exclaimed (unprovoked), "Those guys should disband immediately."

Setlist:

Thickfreakness

Girl Is On My Mind

The Breaks 

Stack Shot Billy

Busted

Act Nice And Gentle (The Kinks)

Everlasting Light

Next Girl

Chop And Change

Howlin' For You

Tighten Up

She's Long Gone

Ten Cent Pistol

I'll Be Your Man

Strange Times

I Got Mine

Sinister Kid (Encore)

Your Touch (Encore)


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