© 2005 Static and Feedback
All rights reserved.
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The blues, for all intents and purposes, seemed dead. The number of variations on the blues is limited, the
purported keepers of the blues flame under the age of 70 seem to be nothing but hacks and imposters, and not
a single blues record had meant a thing to me since Stevie Ray Vaughn died. There seemed to be no need to
keep the charade going. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B.B. King and Little Walter were the
form’s masters for its first 40 years. Eric Clapton had potential when he was 23 and just leaving Cream, but he
turned into a wishy-washy parody of himself, with only flashes of brilliance in the nearly 40 years since. Kenny
Wayne Shepherd had potential, but who knows now how much of his buzz was sincere and how much was a
|THE BLACK KEYS
Girl Is On My Mind
She Said, She Said
10 A.M. Automatic
Stack Shot Billy
Grown So Ugly
Set You Free
Everywhere I Go
Have Love, Will Travel
Work Me Baby
Till I Get My Way
No, it seemed the blues were certainly lost and gone forever. Which might
be what makes the Black Keys so refreshing.
Minimalism taken to heart, the two-man combo of Dan Auerbach on guitar
and vocals and Patrick Carney on the skins pounds out some gritty, gutsy,
ballsy, heartfelt tunes. Their records are jarring — bands don’t sound like
this anymore, or maybe they never have. There’s a grittiness that
underlies a batch of great, road-toughened songs that cry out with a
realness that Clapton would’ve killed to have in 1974. And what are they
playing? The blues. Sure, it has a hard rock edge to it, an alternative fuzz
that dominates, but it’s the blues, played honestly and without pretense.
This traveling reminder of what rock can still be stopped into the Avalon in
Boston’s Fenway section on Nov. 16, and the duo left little to be desired
after their 90 minute set. Basically, they tore the dance hall a new one.
First up, though, was Fat Possum Records labelmate Nathanial Mayer, a
living, breathing cult legend. A soul man from the 60s with swagger to
spare, Mayer came on and surprised the hell out of everyone. Here’s this
man, pushing 70, telling the crowd to shake what mamma gave ‘em. He
was hitting on the ladies, telling the guys they were fools, and laying his
raspy growl on the crowd like it wasn’t no thang. He had them eating out of his hand about three songs in. By the
end of the set, there were five girls dancing alongside him. It was inspiring, to say the least.
The Keys came on around 9:00, with Carney settling his 10-foot, 100 lb. frame behind his kit and Auerbach
looking low-key in just a sweatshirt and jeans, smiling. But the first notes of “No Trust” ripped through the club
quickly, and that heavy, distorted guitar and vocal sound was much more intense in person than on their albums.
Their songs weren’t done to parody, they were expansive and ragged. Auerbach and Carney pushed their music
with a heavy-handed approach that left just enough room for fun. A powerful combination if there was one.
On the drums, Carney is tireless. His tall, gangly frame makes him an imposing sight behind the kit as his mop-
like hair and arms flail to and fro. And Auerbach plays a telecaster pick-free and effortlessly. The hairy sounds he
gets from his instrument seem to come out of nowhere — there’s just no way that this regular-looking dude is
making that noise. Alas, he is, and good for all of us that he is.
The Keys ran through their set quickly, pausing once to tune up (a process that took all of 20 seconds but one for
which Auerbach thanked the crowd for putting up with.) Auerbach hopped up and down during “Stack Shot Billy”
and “Have Love Will Travel” and added some wicked slide to “thickfreakness.” These guys were just having fun.
And that’s what made this show so great. Never once did they come across as “revivalists,” trying to conjure up
ghosts of a nearly-dead format. Certainly, they were aware of the past, but they are first and foremost a garage
band who still get a thrill out of playing. Two guys from Akron, Ohio, reviving the blues and adding a much-
needed kick in the ass of the indie world, all without ever really trying too hard.
And, maybe most importantly, they inspire hope. How many more bands out there are like this, just scratching
under the surface of my radar? Are there still people out there jamming 12 bars that aren’t lining up to play beer
commercials? The possibilities are open again, the blues alive and kicking.
Whenever a band with that attitude comes along, it’s nearly always worth a listen. And if you’re willing, the Keys
will be more than willing to play a song for you, too.
Check out the Black Keys at www.theblackkeys.com