After a five-year hiatus, the blues-rock duo from Akron charmed an enthused Van Andel Arena crowd on Tuesday, with Modest Mouse and Jessy Wilson opening. The review, photos at Local Spins.
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With all the attention – pro and con – that The Black Keys have attracted with their first tour and their first album in five years, “Let’s Rock,” it was intriguing to hear Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney launch Tuesday’s show at Van Andel Arena with an 11-year-old classic: “I Got Mine,” from 2008’s “Attack & Release.”
Perhaps it was a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” because fans roared their approval from the get-go, embracing the longtime favorite that got the 90-minute show started and signaled that this was going to be a career-spanning night.
Indeed, the boys – backed by two guitarists and a bassist – wasted little time diving into the new stuff, rolling out “Eagle Birds” and “Tell Me Lies” from “Let’s Rock” immediately after, with a round, video-screen backdrop projecting appropriately psychedelic images to accompany the bluesy feast.
What followed was a perfectly curated set that included new hits (“Lo/Hi,” “Go,” which kicked off the encore), old singles (“Howlin’ For You,” “Lonely Boy”) and deep-in-the-past classics (“Thickfreakness,” “10 A.M. Automatic,” “Your Touch”).
But before all that, following a brief opening set of rock-fired soul by Brooklyn singer Jessy Wilson, there was Modest Mouse – that edgy, artsy Portland alt-rock band led by singer-guitarist-banjoist Isaac Brock.
With a muddied-but-attention-getting sonic attack, Brock’s ensemble delivered an uneven but occasionally dazzling (“Bukowski,” “Night on the Sun”) one-hour set that unfortunately was marred by equipment problems that had Brock – and the band – stopping midway through until the glitch could be resolved. (Oddly, sound issues cropped up in the band’s last West Michigan appearance at Wings Stadium.)
THE BLACK KEYS DON’T MISS A BEAT WITH BLISTERING BLUES-ROCK
Local Spins writer Ricky Olmos, who also attended Wednesday’s concert, remarked that Modest Mouse’s set had a “very ominous tone” – from the lights to the music – and one might surmise that the band’s approach is probably too esoteric for an arena and better suited to a smaller venue.
Nevertheless, fans responded favorably and rose to their feet for the band’s one bona fide hit, 2004’s “Float On,” which also exuded a peculiar, chant-like vibe.
There was nothing peculiar about The Black Keys’ set (unless you consider the backing guitarist emulating organ/keyboard parts on a couple of songs).
With Auerbach and Carney front and center, the band literally didn’t miss a beat during the 21-song, rafter-rattling affair, with “Next Girl,” “Fire Walk With Me,” “Ten Cent Pistol,” “Your Touch,” “Tighten Up,” “Little Black Submarines” and the show-closing “She’s Long Gone” standing out as highlights.
Few have mastered the art of fusing pop hooks with blistering blues-rock better than the Black Keys, something which also made for memorable, fan-rousing renditions of “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Fever,” “Howlin’ for You” and “Lonely Boy.”
There was little chatter between songs other than thank yous to Grand Rapids fans; no back stories about the material being played to enlighten the revved-up crowd in the three-quarters-full arena.
Because Auerbach isn’t a charismatic, gabby frontman but the perfect ambassador for his brand of bare-knuckled, blues-fired rock and a consummate “tone-smith” who delivers sublime, tasteful, crunchy leads and robust riffs.
And the drum-pummeling Carney might as well be attached to Auerbach’s hip: These guys are so in-sync musically, it’s no surprise they titled their 2010 album, “Brothers.”
If nothing else, the raw blues-powered rock that’s propelled the Black Keys since their inception back in Akron, Ohio, in 2001 remains intact, even in a full-blown arena setting with glitzy projections and high-tech, drop-down light bars.
Despite all those frills, it’s easy to imagine these two guys doing the exact same thing in a basement or in a garage in Akron – and being just as passionate about it.
Long live garage rock.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Black Keys, Modest Mouse, Jessy Wilson at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
SET LIST: The Black Keys at Van Andel Arena
1. I Got Mine
2. Eagle Birds
3. Tell Me Lies
4. Gold on the Ceiling
6. Next Girl
7. Fire Walk With Me
8. Walk Across the Water
9. Everlasting Light
10. Howlin’ for You
11. 10 A.M. Automatic
12. Your Touch
13. Strange Times
14. Tighten Up
16. Ten Cent Pistol
17. Little Black Submarines
18. Lonely Boy
21. She’s Long Gone
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC