Friday, 8 July 2011

Review - The Black Keys (Toronto, ON)

The Black Keys w/ Cage the Elephant
Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
Toronto, ON
Thursday, July 7, 2011

This is a tough one. I want to write about this show, but I have alot of mixed, larger feelings associated with yesterday and how it relates to one of my favourite bands at the moment, I'll try to remain on topic. I really don't want to sound like a music snob (that's not why I write), but I didn't dig this show as much as everybody else and I have to get some stuff down.

The Black Keys came to Toronto last night and depending on who you asked the review may vary based on if they are a new fan, an old fan, or a casual concertgoer looking for entertainment on a warm summer evening. The band (Dan Auerbach on vocals/guitar and Patrick Carney on drums) have been moving up the ranks quite rapidly in the last year and generally over the course of the past decade. This was my third time seeing the band (twice last August) and unfortunately was my least favourite of their sets. Coming in I had both extremely high expectations (based on past shows) and a somewhat cautious attitude (the Coachella webcast seemed to indicate some changes to their live show), the mix of this hurt my enjoyment of the evening.

A year after releasing their Grammy Award-winning album Brothers, the boys returned and have certainly increased the overall feel of their live show, which is where the discomfort for me came. I suppose the music-snob in me is a bigger fan of the simpler, balls-to-the-wall style that they have the reputation for providing, but last night felt as if the band is trying to expand the scope of their live show to reflect their rise in popularity (which I suppose makes the show accessible for everyone in the larger venue). Rather than a simple backdrop and playing the songs straight, there were far more theatrics that I would have expected at a Green Day show and not so much one featuring these guys. During Everlasting Light a massive discoball dropped from the ceiling, video screens displaying random clips played throughout the evening, and a large "BLACK KEYS" sign with flashing lights arrived prior to the encore (and helped cue the chants throughout the 16,000 sold out crowd). The music itself was good, I just felt the gimmicks were a little over-the-top for this band; they don't need to be doing this. Other than my snobby opinion, the show itself in general was clearly a success as everybody else I have talked to loved it and the setlist maintained the variation I expected. I'm not trying to write that the band sucks or that their show did, because it didn't (and they don't). My fear is just being realized that a band I have grown to enjoy more and more is finally getting the fame they deserve and graduating to the big leagues of arena rock. While it's unfortunate that I would like to live in the past, these guys have to make a living and one could say it's important to evolve over time or else you run into the risk of boring your audience. Sorry to go off on a tangent, this is a show review afterall.

The setlist included all of the hits and dirty riffs that one would expect from a Black Keys show, but on a much larger scale compared to previous dates in the city. Last time they were in town there were three more songs played; five of which did not appear last night (two from Rubber Factory, one from each of Attack & Release, Thickfreakness, and Brothers), so perhaps I'm just feeling spoiled by past experiences.

Their studio material has not changed for the worse in my opinion, as I enjoyed Brothers in its own way compared to Rubber Factory or Magic Potion. The fact that they're diversifying their style is fine and I will continue to enjoy the past albums (seventh is due out this year), but the band has shifted my expectations for their live show and this has landed them in a different territory than what I expected Thursday afternoon (further from say, NXNE and closer to the Foo Fighters). That's okay (I guess), things change, relationships evolve, it's just not what I expected last night. A "bad" Black Keys show is still a freakin' Black Keys show where Dan rocks all of our faces off on guitar or where Patrick beats the holy hell out of the drums. I wasn't a fan of the different ways in which they are now performing certain songs, but the source material is still very strong and perhaps I can chalk this up to being a phase of the group (the Arctic Monkeys went darker in 2009, then light again in 2011, for example).

There are many things in my life that I was doing one or five years ago that I don't enjoy doing anymore, so I have to give the guys the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they're just trying something different in order to keep things exciting (they do seem to tour relentlessly afterall). I've been told they're nice guys and I'm sure they are, I was just disappointed with the feel of this show compared to a typical Black Keys show. Oh well, I still have tickets to Tuesday night's show in London; perhaps I will have more fun at that one now that my expectations are a little more grounded.

Cage the Elephant opened with a thirty-minute set featuring favourites from both their self-titled and 2011's Thank You, Happy Birthday. I had only listened to the former on occasion and was not overly familiar with their material, but hits like In One Ear, Shake Me Down, and break-out Ain't No Rest For the Wicked went over extremely well with the audience. Frontman Matthew Shultz certainly lived up to his energetic reputation by moving onto the floor early in the set and then crowd-surfing towards the end. I'll give them points for their energy, but I found the vocals were fairly muffled which may have been a combination of the venue or the lead singer, who knows.

Closing out the evening on the roof of the venue was The Coppertone, but unfortunately we were unable to catch her/their set as we were amongst the masses trying to escape the venue.

Setlist (The Black Keys):
Girl Is On My Mind
The Breaks
Stack Shot Billy
Act Nice and Gentle
Everlasting Light
Next Girl
Chop and Change
Howlin' For You
Tighten Up
She's Long Gone
Ten Cent Pistol
I'll Be Your Man
Strange Times
I Got Mine

Sinister Kid
Your Touch

Album Breakdown:
Brothers: 7
The Big Come Up: 3
Rubber Factory: 3
Attack & Release: 2
Magic Potion: 1
Thickfreakness: 1
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: 1

Setlist (Cage The Elephant):
In One Ear
Tiny Robots
Around My Head
Japanese Buffalo
Back Against the Wall
Indy Kidz
Ain't No Rest for the Wicked
Shake Me Down
Sabretooth Tiger

Album Breakdown:
Thank You Happy Birthday: 7
Cage The Elephant: 4

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