The Black Keys hold a unique position in the modern music scene as a band that has managed to gain acceptance in both the mainstream and from rock and roll purists. While the duo of guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have worked to appease the mainstream, most notably on their aptly titled new album Let’s Rock, they have still stayed cool with obscure influences of blues, garage rock, and soul. The ability to keep one foot in both worlds has elevated them to arena-level status, and on Friday, November 22nd they brought their tour to Portland, Oregon’s Moda Center.
Following a set from throwback rockers Shannon and the Clams, Modest Mouse took the stage after a delay due to technical difficulties. Luckily, frontman Isaac Brock told the crowd the Portland band would still play their full set. Playing with eight band members meant there were opportunities to take songs into new spaces, especially with two drummers and a percussionist to add extra power. Openers “The World At Large” and “Black Cadillacs” were stretched out and jaunty with the latter having plenty of punk energy, while “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” showcased a feedback-laced guitar solo, parts of which Brock played with his teeth, all set to a hyperactive dance beat. Other highlights of the set included “Lampshades on Fire” played with a dubby synth groove and “Bukowski” with a reggae banjo sound that sprawled to the ten-minute mark with plenty of weird jamming. “Grey Ice Water” would also morph into a massive opus with three drummers, solidifying the fact that no Modest Mouse show is the same and their ability to keep their sets so spontaneous and unpredictable makes them still one of the best live bands out there today.
Gone are the days of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney traveling to dive bar venues in a beat up van. The Black Keys of today are a polished arena act. To bolster their sound, the band is currently touring with 2 additional guitarists and a bassist. They opened with the gritty blues rocker “I Got Mine” off their 2008 album Attack & Release before jumping into “Eagle Birds” and “Tell Me Lies”, two new songs off Let’s Rock that found them tapping into a catchy and cranked up 70s rock sound. Auerbach would switch guitars practically every song throughout the set, and while he lacked the kind of rock star bravado one might expect from an arena act, he more than made up for it with his shredding. New songs definitely had a strong presence in the setlist, but the Keys touched on nearly their whole canon, playing the punchy “Fever” off 2014’s Turn Blue and the thumping, trippy “Next Girl” off 2010’s Brothers. Another tune from that album, “Everlasting Light”, would find Auerbach showcasing his high octave sultry soul vocals before following it up with the heavy beat and infectious chorus of “Howlin’ For You”. Auerbach would unleash a blistering onslaught of guitar showmanship on “10 A.M. Automatic” and “Your Touch” that brought the crowd back to the band’s days as a rough and tumble garage blues duo. Some of their biggest hits would be saved for the end of the set, with the whistled soul of “Tighten Up” soaring and a particularly poignant “Little Black Submarines” that started acoustically before exploding into a Led Zeppelin-caliber shred fest that had the audience singing along to every word. “Lonely Boy” would follow with big chunky riffs and Carney pounding his heart out on drums.
In front of a massive wall of lights and a screen displaying grainy footage, the band used their stage setup to convey the 70s rock vibe of their new album. Their backing players mostly added accents to the heavy lifting being done by Carney and Auerbach, who carried the set with the strength of their songs and their musical chemistry as a duo. Light show aside, The Black Keys delivered a straightforward, no-frills rock and roll set in Portland, reminding the thousands in attendance that bands who play guitars still have a place in the mainstream.
All photos by Jessica Rentola Ramberg.