Count on a Black Keys concert to constitute a foundation class in guitar riffs. Call it “Riffology 101,” if you like. With nearly two dozen original songs in Nationwide Arena on Wednesday night, the Akron duo of guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney explored the essential chords driving the groove in a range of American music traditions.
Auerbach laid them down while Carney gave them a simple, sturdy foundation, just as the two do on record. Live, though, the band’s sound was fattened with two additional guitars, Andy Gabbard and Steve Marion, and bassist Zach Gabbard. While the bass filled in for studio overdubbing, the guitarists largely lent texture. They rarely soloed and mostly added power and detail.Keep up on what's going down in entertainment in central Ohio: Sign up for our Life in the 614 newsletter
The flash and fire was almost entirely Auerbach’s, which he delivered with ease.
He planted a fierce rhythm in the simple, hypnotic traditions of the North Mississippi bluesmen, from John Lee Hooker to contemporaries such as R. L. Burnside, in the opening “I Got Mine.” Carney added to the thunder with a simple drum style that strayed from the beat at will, sometimes deepening the groove with his spontaneous varying of the tempo and other times dragging it.
Either way, Auerbach and Carney — partners since the band’s inception nearly 20 years ago — made it work like two old friends having a conversation.
The payoff for most of the songs, though, was Auerbach’s brilliant guitar playing. He chopped the beats with raw chords, mixed them with lead lines, and performed dizzying solos that employed a half-dozen guitars and drew from blues, classic rock, and Mississippi boogie. And he never went on too long.
The band’s additional musicians surely were hired to make the two-piece format grand enough for the 20,000 seat arena. The two guitarists added textures and fills, including a lovely horn-like adornment to the classic soul-styled “Fever.” The capacity of the venue seemed a stretch for the band’s stature but the attendance was impressive, if not near sold-out.
For a band that has worked its way up from small clubs to the largest indoor arena in town, the Black Keys have adapted surprisingly well. The ballads had mixed success, though, a few dragging under Carney’s loose timekeeping, a few others saved by Auerbach’s sometimes impressive soul singing. Best of the bunch was “Little Black Submarines,” which began as a slow song, Auerbach on acoustic guitar but stopped and then started again full-tilt electric.
Still, some of the high-energy spontaneity was surely lost in the gigantic hall.
Modest Mouse opened with a set that reinforced the alternative band’s unique sound. Featuring three drummers and at one point three guitarist, the group put its set on the high burner.