The Black Keys | 04.02 | SF

Words & Images by: Eric Zimmermann

The Black Keys :: 04.02.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA

Patrick Carney - The Black Keys :: 04.02 :: The Warfield
Pat Carney's drums took one hell of a beating last Wednesday. Carney, half of The Black Keys, winced, scowled and sweated his way through the band's concert at The Warfield, punishing his drum kit as though it were responsible for all the angst that inspires the Keys' rowdy blues-rock.

If Carney represents the band's raw, untamed drive, vocalist-guitarist Dan Auerbach is his smooth counterpart. Soulful and skillful, he crooned out his pained lyrics while hiding behind his shaggy bangs.

The Black Keys have their detractors. Any band that plays unadulterated and unapologetic blues-rock is going to be accused of artistic stagnancy, and critics of the Keys call them a bad Zeppelin knockoff. But, I don't think these guys care about critics. Their work has been so assertively consistent – viciously distorted guitar riffs over simple and fun drum beats – that they appear to be primarily concerned with one thing: loud, debauched rock catharsis. The variations in their previous albums have been subtle, generally featuring slight changes in temperament and tone: the playful debut Big Come Up, the warmer Rubber Factory and the fierce, if slightly cold, Magic Potion.

Which is why the news that Danger Mouse would produce their latest album came as a bit of a surprise. The jump from lo-fi, DIY warehouse rock to the meticulous, hip-hop oriented work of Danger Mouse was hard to fathom. The product of this collaboration, Attack & Release, was released the day before their show at The Warfield. "How many of you downloaded it illegally?" Auerbach asked the audience. "You motherfuckers." The album clearly bears the fingerprints of their new collaborator: eerie background vocals, inventive rhythms and slightly more nuanced instrumentation.

Dan Auerbach :: 04.02 :: The Warfield
But, Wednesday night proved that the Keys haven't strayed too far from their signature aesthetic. From the twenty-foot inflatable tire in the back of the stage – with "Black Keys" superimposed over the Goodyear logo – to Auerbach's worn flannel shirt, the duo radiated a Midwest, working class ethos. And they took every opportunity, from introductions to equipment labels, to remind the audience of their hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Unlike the traditional stage setup where the drums are in the back of the stage, Carney and Auerbach played side-by-side, indicative of how integral each musician is to the band's sound. There is no "backup" member in The Black Keys, because when you've only got two members, there is no margin for error. Thanks to this dynamic, as well as Auerbach's magnificent guitar work, the Keys sound like more than the sum of their parts.

Opening with "Girl Is On My Mind," Auerbach cried out for a woman to "hold me close to you!" Judging by the fan-girl shrieks from the front row, more than a few were willing. On "Thickfreakness," his opening guitar line ripped through the silence like a chainsaw. Though Auerbach's eyes were hidden behind his hair for most of the evening, it was certainly not indicative of shyness. Every emotion this guy possessed was laid bare and channeled directly into his flame-orange guitar.

In the blues tradition, Auerbach's lyrics are minimalist. That's probably for the best, since his gravelly voice tends to melt syllables together into one steady stream of moaning, and this effect is heightened in concert. At The Warfield, his voice fluidly meandered through each song, as much a musical instrument as a means of articulating words. Like all effective blues singers, he communicated pain more through the desperation of his voice than the specificity of his lyrics.

The Black Keys :: 04.02 :: The Warfield
Carney's uncle, Ralph Carney, made a surprise appearance to play flute and sax for two of the band's new songs – "Same Old Thing" and "So He Won't Break." The elder Carney, part of Tom Waits' band, accompanied the Keys on Attack & Release. In the midst of such heavy guitar rock, the flute sounded refreshing and more than a little haunting. The sax was inaudible on "So He Won't Break," but it hardly mattered. The song is a raw plea for the salvation of love, and the guitar-drum dynamic did it perfect, minimalist justice. "You know the difference it makes/ And you know all it takes/ Is love, so he won't break," Auerbach cried, his quivering voice both agonized and controlled.

The band seemed entirely comfortable with their new material. Auerbach slung his guitar around his back and sat down at an electric organ for "Oceans & Streams," a minor key, grinding ghost of a song. However, the best might have been saved for the encore. "All You Ever Wanted" is a mournful masterpiece, and the duo sucked every last piece of emotional marrow from its depths. The song features one of Auerbach's most potent lyrics to date: "When you work the streets, darlin'/ Make sure your sneaker laces/ They get tied."

Because the Keys' music is so raw, it translates well to the live setting. There are no missing bells and whistles, no aesthetic nuances lost when the band leaves the studio. That may change as their work becomes more intricate, a trend perhaps indicated by Attack & Release. But, if their show at The Warfield was any indication, The Black Keys are perfectly secure in their own blues-soaked skin. Enough so, at least, to experiment with new sounds without sacrificing what makes them wonderfully, cathartically morose and abject.

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leepnstof Mon 4/7/2008 05:11PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


i like that strange times song

Muffinman1 Mon 4/7/2008 05:16PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


One of the best bands around right now, And one of the most bad ass, amp frying, guitar shredders around. One listen to "rubber factory" and you'll be hooked too. It's just a matter of time until you know this band. My mother even loves them. Please do yourself a favor and see them live, listen to cd's and join in what you've been missing out on.

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/7/2008 05:42PM
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Love this band! Pissed that I didn't get tix to their Denver show before it sold out . . .

NittyGritty starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/7/2008 09:27PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


These guys freakin rock! please come to the south sometime soon

phaslam starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/7/2008 09:42PM
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Great review. This show @ the Warfield was my first w/The Keys and I gotta say that these guys SHRED! I've listened to them before, and had pretty high expectations before the show and they still floored me. Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!

DanFish Tue 4/8/2008 04:17AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

the show at the marquee theatre rocked my socks off! cant wait to see them again when i attend lollapalooza...

BungledMorphine Tue 4/8/2008 07:02AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Been a fan since "Thickreakness" came out. This album will draw in a lot of haters, but I think it was a logical progression for the boys.

And to the reviewer - comparisons by critics calling TBK a Led Zep knock-off band is BS. They draw more comparisons to the White Stripes than anyone else. Not only that, but Robert Plant is a huge fan of TBK. I don't think he would be a fan if he thought they were a rip-off of his band.

Anyway, can't wait to see them again on the 11th. 4th time seeing them!

kandrokitis Tue 4/8/2008 08:26AM
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Never really listened much to these guys. I gotta get into them. Anyone got any suggestions?

drewdive Tue 4/8/2008 08:48AM
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Ralph Carney actually played the bass clarinet, not a sax. Although it kinda sounds like a tenor sax, it is, in fact, a clarinet. Just pointing this out since it is quite unique and even moreso to see/hear this instrument at a rock show.

BungledMorphine Tue 4/8/2008 09:01AM
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kandrokitis --

Start with their first album "The Big Come Up" and work your way sequentially through their albums. This way, you'll have a good idea where they came from and their transformation to where they are now. My favorite is "Thickfreakness" which is their second album, but they're all good. Don't forget to get their EP "Chulahoma" which are covers of one of Dan's musical heroes, the late great Junior Kimbrough.

Have fun getting into one the best bands of the 2000's!!!

Hope that helps!

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/8/2008 10:34AM
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These guys are amazing! I even like them better than the White Stripes! These guys are in the top 10 bands in music playing right now. Saw them at SXSW and I'm seeing them at Rothbury. If you guys havent yet, check out Black Keys Live dvd!!!

bigchris starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/8/2008 12:44PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Great review. I was at this show, first time seeing the Keys and was very impressed. These guys know how to bring the ROCK! I enjoyed them much better than most duos(ie White Stripes). The crowd was great with plenty of cute ladies in attendance. The Warfield could use more shows like this. The Giant tire on stage was awesome too. Check out the Black Keys!

jamrad starstarstarstar Tue 4/8/2008 01:52PM
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the show was great and i love the new album, i can't stop listening to it. keep the good music coming.

Lord-K. starstarstarstar Tue 4/8/2008 03:24PM
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Seen these guys twice once in 05 at a The highdive after that I was hooked these guys are amzing live so much energy studio albums rock but nothing compares to the live show.....haven't heard the new album yet but i am gonna get it today. Great gusy to super chillax.

MaseBase starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/8/2008 04:11PM
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wish I could have made it to this show. I miss them every time they are in SF

BansheeBeat starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/8/2008 05:57PM
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The Black Keys are truly brilliant! They killed it at Bonnaroo last year