Thursday, January 6, 2011

Concert Review: Black Keys at Aragon Ballroom NYE

Dundee Media Corner favorites the Black Keys played three sold out shows last week at Uptown's Aragon Ballroom.  I attended the New Year's Eve concert.  This was my second time seeing the Keys live in 2010, having seen them earlier at the smaller and (vastly) acoustically superior venue Metro. 

The Greenhornes opened for the Keys.  On paper, they seem like the perfect openers.  Both bands have garage rock influenced sounds and hail from Ohio.  However, the Greenhornes' sound was no match for the Aragon's deplorable acoustics, leaving much of their set to sound somewhat indistinguishable, like a musical KFC bowl. From what I could tell, the band seem to be playing with a lot of energy and they are very skilled musicians.  The Greenhornes would sound good at a smaller, better venue. 

This was my first New Year's Eve concert and it was definitely a different atmosphere.  It was sort of a mixture between a concert and a party as concertgoers were chatting away with each other throughout the night. The audience was primarily made up of women all-dolled up for the holiday and men in flannel shirts.  There were quite a bit more ladies at this concert, which may have been why the crowd was less rowdy than at the Metro Keys' concert.

The Keys took the stage a little bit before midnight. Much to my surprise, my doppelganger, Dan Auerbach appeared without his trademark mysteriously orange beard!  Opting instead for a clean shaven look. 
The set list was a mixture of old favorites ("Girl is On My Mind," "I'll Be Your Man") and new hits ("Tighten Up," "Next Girl," "Chop and Change").  There was considerable set list overlap from their Metro show; some of which made sense (I'd be sorely disappointed if they didn't play "I Got Mine") and some not so much (Is "Short Stack Billy" really that loved?).  I give the Black Keys credit for playing songs that are popular and giving the audience what they want; the Keys have to be pretty sick of playing "10 A.M. Automatic" by now. But I like it best when they break away from the expected and play some of their less popular stuff.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find that they added several songs from their first album The Big Come Up to the set and- best of all- a cover of the Kinks' "Act Nice and Gentle" from Rubber Factory.   

In typical Black Keys fashion, stage chitchat was kept to a minimum, opting instead to squeeze as many songs as possible into the set.  Dan did pause towards the end to introduce the different band members.  There was also, of course, a countdown to midnight, followed by confetti and balloons falling from the ceiling.  The Black Keys' sound quality was somewhat hindered by the venue, but they fared better than the Greenhornes.  "Strange Times" didn't sound nearly as good as it did at Metro, but only a few of their other songs sounded slightly hollow.  Overall, it was a pretty enjoyable show.  They played an encore performance of "Sinister Kid" (still not my favorite) and a rocking version of "Your Touch."  It was a nice selection, but I still won't be satisfied until they add "The Lengths" as their closer.  Not only is it my favorite song of theirs, but it has the right mood for a show-ender.

The fan base for the Black Keys has grown considerably with their last album, Brothers.   It's great to see that they are finally getting the recognition and success they deserve.  I just hope that they don't stop playing smaller venues, where their sound truly shines.

Albums by the Black Keys:

The Big Come Up (2002)

Thickfreakness (2003)

Rubber Factory (2004)

Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough (2006)

Magic Potion (2006)

Attack & Release (2008)

Brothers (2010)