To those of us in Northeast Ohio, The Black Keys are just Dan and Patrick, super talented dudes who made it big yet never forget their roots. It’s not that we’re not impressed with them—we totally are! But we still see them as ours, no matter where they live or how many Grammys they win. They’ll always be local boys to us.
They really rocked the fucking balls off Cleveland on 6 September 2014! It was really exciting to be in the same room with them, not just because they’re huge, successful rock stars, but also because they have worked really hard to get where they are, and they still seem like a couple of chill guys from Akron. This may sound cheesy, but watching people do what they love to do is really inspiring. I’m working toward my goals, and though Patrick and Dan are younger than I am I still look up to them and understand that I am simply a late bloomer.
So here’s what I thought of the show:
First of all, the excitement in the arena was incredible. A lot of people were wearing old Black Keys t-shirts, one of which I have been seeing around town for a few years now. That’s the one I really wanted to buy at the merch table, but they weren’t selling it. They did have a similar one that was made for this tour, so I got that one.
The opening act, Cage the Elephant, was pretty good. Before the concert I had never heard their music, but it did have sort of an early Stones/Yardbirdsy sound to it. The lead singer at first reminded me of Perry Farrell, and then I saw the influence of Jagger and Iggy Pop that Perry also uses. I dug it.
Then The Black Keys came on. Their stage set is nothing fancy, which I like. They have multiple screens in the background that show distorted images of the band as well as psychedelic, swirly things that fit in with the graphics of the Turn Blue album. Ever since Kiss too many performers have had it in their heads that they need all this elaborate shit on stage, tons of costumes and makeup and shit, and while there is something to be said for the entertainment value of that sort of thing, I really prefer just some musicians on the stage with their equipment and some cool lighting. The Black Keys understand. I also think that since they’ve traditionally been a two-piece band that it’s more challenging for them to translate their act to an arena. When they tour they have more people onstage with them, as they did when they performed with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the 2013 Grammys. That was still minimalist, and it was fucking great!
On this tour they have only added a bass player and a keyboardist, and that’s quite enough. Everything sounded really good, from the stuff on their last few albums to some choice cuts from their earlier work. They opened with “Dead and Gone” from El Camino (read my blog about El Camino here), but waited until a bit later on to fuck our shit up with “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling.” And there were a few songs like “Howlin’ for You” that are perfect for audience participation, and the crowd went wild!
And that crowd was pretty diverse as far as age and race. It’s good to see so many people come out to listen to some rock and roll music and support local boys who made it big. And I only smelled weed twice during the show. Most concerts I’ve attended are practically Woodstockian with all the pot clouds hovering above us, so I was very happy to not have to be exposed to that. I don’t care if people smoke weed, but do it at home where you’re not bothering people and where you’ll be safe. Why do you need to be high or drunk at a concert? People around us were getting up every 20 minutes to get another beer. Just sit your ass down and listen to the music.
One thing I noticed was how little the guys talk during the show. Patrick doesn’t say a word, and Dan really only spoke a few times. In the beginning he said something like, “We’re The Black Keys, and we’re from Akron, Ohio!” We loved that shit! They had us in the palms of their hands all night long, even when Dan joked about thanking LeBron for letting them use his house for the night (the concert was at Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers).
I’ve seen Foo Fighters a bunch of times, and Dave Grohl talks a lot in between—and sometimes during!—songs. But The Black Keys aren’t that garrulous even in person, I think. I’ve seen them interviewed, and it’s not that they can’t give a good quote or some insight into their work, but I think they might still feel a bit awkward being in this position. As acclaimed and successful as they are, they seem like humble guys from Akron who are a little weirded out by all this attention. I also think that they truly do want the attention to be 100% on their music and not anything personal. They’ve each had their personal dramas, especially Dan, but they’d rather let their music speak to that. And I respect them for it.
The song that stands out the most is “Little Black Submarines.” It’s their “Stairway to Heaven,” and I don’t mean that in a condescending way or anything. It’s a really epic song with acoustic sadness and hard core rock and roll badassery. I got chills while Dan was singing the first part of the song with such passion; it was like the first time any of us had heard it. They took a breath with the lights out before launching into the heavy part, and dammit I wish I had recorded that! But I was too wrapped up in that moment of unbridled admiration and respect. It’s a great song on El Camino, but even better live—you really have no idea.
After a little more than an hour, they bowed and exited the stage. The audience screamed and waved our cell phone flashlights for a good three to five minutes before the boys returned to the stage to deafening screams. Then they hit us with “Turn Blue.” Yes, that’s it. The lighting was perfect, the atmosphere, and we were ready to indulge.
Their final song was “I Got Mine” from Attack & Release. Dan dismissed the bass player and keyboardist and got back to basics with his buddy Patrick, just like they used to do in the Carney family’s basement. Wow. Such a pleasure to hear them like this. I never saw them in the early days when they were playing around Akron and Cleveland, but this is how I imagine they must have sounded, only on a much smaller stage. Like so much of their concert, “I Got Mine” showcases the blues that makes up the first half of their catalogue. Dan’s voice is ridiculously soulful, and it’s getting better as the years go by. Listen to some of those first records and you’ll be impressed by not only his voice, but by the artistry they each display, the unselfconscious manner of their musicianship. This rendition of “I Got Mine” gives it to you hard.
When the lights went down and we realized that the show was really over, the applause took a few minutes to fade away. When I see a really great show, I feel transformed, refreshed, and inspired. I know that everything will be all right.