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The Black Keys, the retro, bluesy rock duo comprised of Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums), have come a long way since they opened for Beck at the Santa Barbara Bowl back in 2003.
Now headlining major arenas for crowds of tens of thousands, their latest album — 2011’s El Camino — became the band’s highest-charting effort, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and having sold 980,000 copies to date. In total, they’ve sold more than 3.6 million records in the U.S. alone throughout their decade-long career.
All these stats, not to mention the applause of a sold-out crowd of some 4,500 fans, made the band’s Oct. 2 return to the Bowl all the more special. Among those taking in the band’s retro sounds: Santa Barbara local Jack Johnson, and Lost stars Daniel Dae Kim, Josh Holloway and Harold Perrineau.
The Keys’ energetic 90-minute set featured giant, powerful guitar riffs from Auerbach and plenty of their churning, blues-based rock vibe. Opening their set with two of their better-known songs, “Howlin’ for You” and “Next Girl,” it was instantly clear that the band preferred to focus on the music, the only real visual effect was a segmented video screen providing animated graphics, and at some points live images of the two musicians.
Originally from Akron, Ohio, but now residing in Nashville, Auerbach and Carney have been friends since high school, forming a band after dropping out of college in mid-2001. Seven albums later, the duo has has ostensibly become rock’s great hope and the heirs apparent to the nearly universally beloved White Stripes, who called it quits in February 2011.
But can just two men, a drum set, a guitar, and their gritty, ‘60s-inspired tunes hold the attention of massive venues? Indeed — and even more so — the highlight of the show came when the duo brought it back to the basics by removing their two touring members of the band from the stage, so only Auerbach and Carney remained.
“We are gonna play some songs just the two of us,” prefaced Auerbach, who kept banter with the crowd to an absolute minimum. “Just like we did here a long time ago when we opened for Beck.”
They played “Girl Is on my Mind” and “Your Touch,” leading the crowd through an ebb and flow of brazen beats and quieter moments that culminated in bold peaks. Auerbach dished out effortless, hefty chords while Carney hammered away with beefy beats.
Then, switching to an acoustic for “Little Black Submarines,” Auerback sat center stage under a single spotlight, allowing the song to pick up steam as Carney and bandmates joined in.
After wrapping up their set with “Tighten Up” and “Lonely Boy,” the guys turned on the disco ball for “Everlasting Light,” allowing them to seduce the crowd once more. They ended the night with “I Got Mine,” leaving the crowd fully contented that they, too, got theirs.
With more than a decade of touring under their belts, the Black Keys have solidified their reputation as a force on stage. And now that their audience of admirers numbers in the millions, Auerback and Carney have to do very litte selling: the music speaks for itself.
Howlin’ for You
Run Right Back
Same Old Thing
Dead and Gone
Gold on the Ceiling
Girl Is on my Mind
Little Black Submarine
Chop and Change
Ten Cent Pistol
She’s Long Gone
I Got Mine
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