The Black Keys at Schottenstein Center
The Black Keys kicked off the opening leg of its North American tour at a crowded Schottenstein Center Friday running the concert equivalent of football's no-huddle offense.
"Let's keep it moving right along," said singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, who positioned himself to the left of drummer and fellow Ohio native Patrick Carney. And for the better part of 95 minutes the band - touring members Richard Swift (bass) and John Wood (keyboard/guitar) rounded out the lineup - did precisely that, moving from one blistering cut to the next with workmanlike fervor.
It's a pace reflected in the setlist, which eschewed the moodier, more drawn out moments on the duo's most recent album, Turn Blue, in favor of blunt, hard-charging songs constructed of stampeding drums and fuzzy, distorted guitar riffs. Indeed, it was nearly 30 minutes into the performance before the crew played its first new song, "It's Up to You Now," which masked its bad juju ("You wanted to love, but you didn't know how," the singer moaned) with booming drums and tightly coiled bursts of guitar, several of which sent Auerbach rocking back on his heels, like a small child firing an air rifle for the first time.
Auerbach and Carney have seen their star rise steadily since first getting together in the basement of a West Akron home in 2001. The Keys' previous two albums - the 2011 release El Camino and Brothers from 2010 - both sold in excess of a million copies and earned the pair multiple Grammy awards, and over the course of a dozen or so years the musicians have progressed from playing dive bars to headlining arenas and festivals.
The band retraced some of these earliest steps here, bashing through a raw, whiskey-soaked "Leavin' Trunk," off its 2002 debut The Big Come Up, an album heavily influenced by the likes of Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough. Other songs found the Black Keys toying with more colorful shades. "Gold on the Ceiling" wobbled along on a skronky organ line, and toy piano gurgled to the surface on "Too Afraid to Love You." "Fever," in turn, balanced jaunty organs with Auerbach's shattered words, which painted the picture of a man falling steadily to pieces. "Show me how to live again," he sang, uncertain of how to make that first step back.
This remained a familiar theme throughout the evening, with the frontman dwelling on his various mental stresses - many of which appeared tied to women. "All this love of mine … you waste it," he belted on one number. Then, on another: "You pulled my heart out/ I don't mind bleeding."
Playing against a backdrop designed to look like a Hollywood soundstage - dozens of stage lights formed a glowing metallic forest behind the musicians and assorted video screens projected what could have been termed raw footage - Auerbach and Co. dabbled in blues-rock, garage, psychedelia, glam, and, on a breezy cover of the Kinks' "Act Nice and Gentle," something approaching polite British folk.
More often, however, the crew kept things lean and loud. "Dead and Gone" plowed ahead on tight knots of guitar and Swift's big, rubbery bassline, which sounded as though it could have been manufactured in one of Akron's long-shuttered rubber factories. "Lonely Boy" similarly danced along on a thick, buzzing guitar line and Carney's slightly askew breakbeats.
Best of all might have been the set-closing "I Got Mine," which Auerbach and Carney delivered minus their supporting cast. Allotted the extra space to roam, Auerbach teased out the song, letting thundering riffs dissolve to feedback before surging back - attack and release. It was a thrilling exchange, and proof that though the venue has changed, the Keys aren't too far removed from those early basement explorations.
1. Dead and Gone
2. Next Girl
3. Your Touch
4. Run Right Back
5. Same Old Thing
6. Gold on the Celing
7. It's Up to You Now
8. Too Afraid to Love You
9. Strange Times
10. Nova Baby
11. Leavin' Trunk
12. Howlin' For You
13. She's Long Gone
14. Gotta Get Away
15. A Girl Like You (Edwyn Collins Cover)
16. Tighten Up
18. Lonely Boy
19. Act Nice and Gentle (Kinks cover)
20. Little Black Submarines
21. I Got Mine