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Editor's note: Recently, Matt Berry in Atlanta and Nick Tavares in Boston each took
in the Black Keys at the start of their North American tour in support of their most
recent album,
Magic Potion. What follows is their shared account, with Mr. Berry
taking the first person view.

STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent

On a cool night in the jewel of the South, anything can happen. On a cool
November night in Atlanta’s Little Five Points district, an area famous for its
eccentric personalities and hippy mentality, wonderful things happened.

I arrived at the Variety Playhouse far too early for a casual fan. While most of it was
designed to beat the traffic leaving the University of Georgia on the heels of its
rivalry game at Auburn, a part of me wanted to ensure that I was among the first
inside the venue and the closest to The Black Keys, the two piece from Akron,
Ohio, that had been wowing me with their musical prowess and raw talent for
several months.

My roommate and I parked my car, walked past the venue, and proceeded to walk
down the square to kill some time around the area. As we walked, a somewhat
short man with long hair and a beard that would’ve made Billy Gibbons proud
passed us. I had to do a double take: it was guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach,
the man whom I had begun to admire as my favorite musician earlier in the year.
While I was taken aback, my roommate had no idea who it was, as he had heard
few Black Keys songs.

We walked around the four-block area over and over, trying in vain to kill time. The
show was still three hours away. As the sun began to set, I walked back to my car
to grab a jacket. On the way, we passed Auerbach again, this time accompanied
by drummer Patrick Carney. I would not allow the opportunity to pass me by, and
gave the band a simple “Hey guys” as we walked by. They replied, “Hey,” and were
on their way, as I giddily grabbed my jacket and tried to kill more time.

After stopping at a burger place, a Native American store and a coffee shop, we
finally got into line at 6:30. The doors opened at 7:00, and I proceeded down to the
stage, staking out a spot up front. The opening band, The Black Angels, had been
described to me in line as “Neil Young meets the Doors, but way more
psychedelic.” A pretty apt description, if you ask me. Though the vocals were
inaudible to me because the PA system was above the stage, the music of the
Angels impressed me with its raw psychedelic tones and pounding drum beats
from multiple drummers.

Soon after the Angels, the curtain pulled back, and Pat Carney’s drum kit was
about a foot from my left ear. The band walked out, gave a quick greeting, and then
Auerbach’s gritty Ibanez custom SG copy burst through the crowd’s applause as
“thickfreakness” filled the room.

What makes the Black Keys stand out is the grit. On stage, it's all guts, no glitz.
Carney's undersized drumkit hangs right over the edge of the stage, while
Auerbach channels dirty, howling tones through a set of Marshall amps that look
to have been fished out of Lake Erie.

And that's it. There's not much in the way of lights, no backdrop, no flashpots.
What's left is a gutsy version of the blues that shines with complete void of
glamour. The Keys are literally transplanted from the garage to the gig. And from
that vantage, their power has no where else to go but to flatten the crowd.

And it's not subtle. From the opening guitar howl of "thickfreakness,” Auerbach
was fingerpicking his way through some of the toughest, loudest guitar to come
out of rock in ages. But what renders it classic is the unique phrasing —
backwards riffs and staccato solos are framed by walls of feedback and
divebombs. And that's all in the first two minutes.

Throughout the show, the crowd was fixated on the band. No mosh pits erupted;
there was no shoving to get to the front. They simply stood and watched the
wondrous musical phenomenon happening before them.

Shouts and clapping rang out in the small venue, and the band re-emerged to
finish the show with “Grown So Ugly” and “Till I Get My Way,” both off the band’s
most rounded album,
Rubber Factory. The boys finished the set, and all walked
away truly stunned at what had just taken place.

The show flew by, with the band taking breaks only for Auerbach to tune his guitar.
His combination of fingerpicking and slide elevated songs like “Busted” and
“Stack Shot Billy” to new levels of intensity.

Holding this madness together is Carney, roughly nine feet tall and all arms and
legs. On "Everywhere I Go," Carney employs a tambourine in place of a second
drumstick, and as the song builds, that tambourine beats the hell out of his crash
symbol. As dirty and out of control Auerbach's guitar is, Carney's drums are primal
to match.

The on-stage collective of the Black Keys is one of soul, punk, garage and noise.
There is no pretense to the live Keys. In the absece of makeup and set designers
comes one of the most powerful examples of music in action today.

The future for The Black Keys is as bright as any other band in America right now,
and even if they don’t receive the universal acclaim that they deserve, I don’t think
they mind, and I don’t think their fans mind. I hope Auerbach and Carney don’t
mind our hoping that they remain a moderately-successful underground band, so
that I and my fellow Black Keys fans can have them all to ourselves.

Their sound is not pretty, and it’s not supposed to be. And that makes for a
beautiful racket.
A tale of two cities
The Black Keys burn up the eastern seaboard
Avalon Ballroom
Boston, Mass.
Nov. 2, 2006

Girl is on My Mind
Just Got To Be
Modern Times
Stack Shot Billy
You're the One
Set You Free
Just a Little Heat
Your Touch
Everywhere I Go
10 A.M. Automatic
No Trust
Have Love, Will Travel
Grown So Ugly
Till I Get My Way
E-mail Nick Tavares at
Discuss this story in our forums.
Variety Playhouse
Atlanta, Ga.
Nov. 10, 2006

Girl Is on My Mind
Just Got to Be
The Breaks
Stack Shot Billy
You're the One
Set You Free
Your Touch
Strange Desire > The Flame
10 A.M. Automatic
No Trust
Have Love, Will Travel
Grown So Ugly
Till I Get My Way
Matt Berry/Static and Feedback
Dan Auerbach tears it up in Atlanta.
E-mail Matt Berry at
More thoughts on the Black Keys:

Since first hearing the band this summer, I
had often said that the reason I liked them
is because Auerbach plays guitar like how
I try to play. I quickly abandoned all hope
of emulating him, as his old-style finger
picking mixed with a hell of a fuzz box to
make, without a doubt, the most brutal
guitar tone I’ve ever heard.

Two people, with an amplifier facing
from my side of the stage, had just put on
the best concert I had ever seen. They had
created more noise than any band I had
ever seen. Auerbach’s raw, soulful vocals
sounded like he was channeling Aaron
Neville. Again, remember, he’s a short
white guy from Ohio. And both are still in
their mid 20s.

As the band finished the first set with its
raucous version of the blues classic “Have
Love, Will Travel,” Carney stood up and
threw the setlist for the show directly at me. I
was so transfixed on the amazing show and
the gift I had just received that I barely even
noticed that it was the encore break.
— Matt Berry
Atlanta photo gallery: Click on thumbnails for full-size images.
All shots © Matt Berry, 2006. All rights reserved.