“When I was 17, I drove to the Euclid Tavern to see R.L. Burnside,” Auerbach said from the Dos Equis Pavilion stage. “It changed my life. We wouldn’t be here if not for that show — we’re gonna play a song they did that evening.”
With that, Auerbach, along with his Black Keys bandmate and fellow Ohioan Patrick Carney, launched into Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South.” The core duo was joined, in an extended cameo, by guitarist Kenny Brown, who’d been on the Euclid Tavern stage that night with Burnside, and by bassist Eric Deaton. (The 69-year-old cowboy hat-clad Brown could hardly keep his stoic mien from cracking into a grateful smile as the audience gave him a well-deserved, roaring ovation.)
“South” was one of a handful of covers the rock band rolled out on its superb 2021 LP Delta Kream and was the apex of Tuesday’s roughly 105-minute set before an enthusiastic crowd contending with the first nip of autumn in the air. The performance, on a stage backed by an enormous video screen and a battery of blistering, restless lights, was the final stop of the band’s 32-date North American tour.
Touring behind its latest record, Dropout Boogie, which dropped in May, the band — fleshed out in full by guitarist Andy Gabbard, percussionist Chris St. Hilaire, bassist Zach Gabbard and keyboardist Ray Jacildo — treated its newest product indifferently, showcasing just three songs, including hit single “Wild Child,” over the course of the night. (By contrast, they performed five songs from its predecessor, Delta Kream.)
Some of that approach might stem from the fact that there was a planned 2020 date for the Black Keys that was scrapped due to the pandemic; Tuesday’s gig was the band’s first in North Texas since a 2019 stop at Fort Worth’s Dickies Arena.
By de-emphasizing the promotional nature of it all, the Keys were freed up to do what they do best: build and sustain smoky, soulful walls of sound, built upon Carney’s facility with rhythms both steady and stuttering, and Auerbach’s ever-graceful tenor voice, capable of glistening falsettos and barroom howls, coupled with his gritty, fevered guitar work. With eyes often squeezed shut behind his dark sunglasses, Auerbach’s fingers worked the strings relentlessly, wrenching and slicing notes in sustained arias of serrated sound.
The Black Keys attacked the stage with trademark gusto, showcasing the sturdy, workmanlike attitude that has made arena rock stardom feel, in their hands, like a thrilling, grimy, mid-week gig in a tiny club.
The Black Keys took care to knock out most of their hits — “Howlin’ for You,” “Fever,” “Tighten Up,” “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Lo/Hi,” “Everlasting Light” and “Next Girl” all made an appearance — and seemed to revel in the crowd’s visceral response.
Indeed, to observe the band in action Tuesday night, anyone walking into the venue wouldn’t have necessarily known the tour was winding down. The Black Keys attacked the stage with trademark gusto, showcasing the sturdy, workmanlike attitude that has made arena rock stardom feel, in their hands, like a thrilling, grimy, mid-week gig in a tiny club.
Equally dynamic was the evening’s direct support, Band of Horses. Lead vocalist and songwriter Ben Bridwell, who comically fought with the mic stand for much of the band’s 50-minute set, seemed downright giddy — and grateful — for the final show of the tour, repeatedly expressing his thanks to those assembled and the crew behind the scenes. The exuberance carried over into the songs: “Laredo” was a feisty gallop, and “The Funeral” proved to be a powerfully cathartic closer.
Stratospheric success can often warp intentions and bend personalities, but becoming rock stars has only driven Auerbach and Carney inward, protecting their core passions and lifting up those — like Brown and Deaton on Tuesday night — whose talents deserve far greater recognition than they might otherwise receive.
It’s why Carney’s drum kit, all these years later, still bears the band’s name scrawled in Sharpie on the bass drum head. At this point, could the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum band afford a more polished version? Probably, but then they would be selling a false version of the real thing — cheap soul for easy money.
It’s the same reason Auerbach can’t shake that long-ago Euclid Tavern gig — he plugged into something potent that night, unlocking a piece of himself that took him further than he ever thought it might. Gazing around at the audience Tuesday, it wasn’t hard to imagine similar epiphanies happening in real time, from the front row to the lawn.