After a multi-year hiatus, The Black Keys are back at it, touring across the United States and Canada in support of their latest album, Let’s Rock. The new release, which dropped back in June, marks the group’s ninth studio LP and the followup to 2014’s Turn Blue. Let’s Rock also represents a departure from the band’s prior studio workflow, with the Akron, OH duo opting to go it alone as opposed to collaborating with longtime partner Danger Mouse, who helped produce their previous four records.
Thus, The Black Keys took over Chicago’s United Center on Friday night (Sept. 27) for a crowd-pleasing performance that saw singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney spotlighting material from the new album, while also digging deep into the back catalogue to engage fans — both new and old — with an epic set of blues rock tunes. And while stormy weather threw a wrench into the mix (as far as commuting to the arena), fans nevertheless turned out in droves, answering the band’s continental call to arms — “Let’s Rock.”
Ticket-holders who arrived early enough got a taste of Nashville’s own *repeat repeat. The husband-and-wife pairing — Jared and Kristyn Corder — delivered an energetic block of melodic rock with tracks including Floral Canyon’s “Girlfriend” and “Head On,” from their 2019 Carney-produced LP Glazed.
Following the brief but enjoyable opening set, Washington indie rock group Modest Mouse performed a dozen or so songs, simultaneously pleasing and challenging listeners with a unique and often-intense cacophony of sounds.
Frontman Isaac Brock and company had fans swaying and singing along from the outset with the dreamy opener “Dramamine,” as well as on the melancholy “Ocean Breathes Salty,” which saw the performers bathed in a lush green light. The band also found a nice groove on the upbeat “Dashboard,” which saw the musical collective making good use of their ambitious three-drummer setup.
The remaining track list of highs and lows, which noticeably did not include fan favorite “Float On,” found the group’s eight members swapping instruments while simultaneously crafting an exploratory sonic experience for concert-goers.
By the time The Black Keys took to the stage, fans were ready and waiting. Backed by a new trio of touring musicians, Auerbach and Carney wasted no time, launching right into a blazing rendition of “I Got Mine,” from 2008’s Attack & Release.
The pair incorporated the bulk of their discography throughout the 21-song setlist, though 2010’s Brothers notably received a little extra love with tracks like “Tighten Up,” “Ten Cent Pistol” and the mellow, falsetto-driven “Everlasting Light” all making appearances. Additionally, a haunting version of “Next Girl” took fans on a rock-infused ride, while “Howlin’ for You,” with its irresistibly snappy hooks, later prompted an arena-wide sing-along.
Needless to say, guitar was front-and-center at last night’s show, particularly on tunes like the crunchy “Thickfreakness” and “Fire Walk With Me,” the second of which saw Auerbach ripping solos on a cigar box guitar. The guitarist and singer further showed off his extensive skill set on the slow burner “Walk Across The Water,” elevating the tune in the live setting with some searing solo work.
While The Black Keys have been out of commission for a few years, Friday night’s performance at the United Center suggests that time away may have actually been just what the doctor ordered. From Auerbach’s fuzzy riffs and screeching solos to Carney’s hard-hitting drums, the duo certainly proved they have not lost their rock edge. Those in doubt need look no further than the raw energy and instrumental urgency on display last night during tracks like “Your Touch” and Rubber Factory oldie but goodie “10 A.M. Automatic.” And, while the venues (and stage theatrics) may have gotten bigger, the intimate garage rock sound that made countless fans fall in love with the band so many years ago undoubtedly still remains.
The Black Keys’ ‘Let’s Rock’ Tour (with Special Guests Modest Mouse) continues through November. For more information, and to pick up tickets, visit www.theblackkeys.com.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)