The Black Keys Settled Into Arena Rock Professionalism at AAC Last Night

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The Black Keys With Jake Bugg. American Airlines Center, Dallas Sunday, November 16, 2014

A quick glance over the past decade of rock music doesn't exactly produce an over-abundance of true, guitar-driven bands that have climbed up from the club circuit and into the realm of massive-scale arena rock. These days, 20,000-seat arenas such as the American Airlines Center are primarily home to the styling of A-list pop stars, aging classic rockers and crossover country hit makers.

But on Sunday night, with the home of the Mavericks and Stars held prisoner by history making amounts of driving snow and menacing ice (not really, but scattered flurries dispose many of us to hyperbole), the Black Keys delivered a tight set of legit, wall-to-wall arena rock.

See also: The Black Keys Coming to American Airlines Center in November

Lead singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach and bespectacled drummer Patrick Carney are indeed one of the small handful of true blue rock stars to emerge in recent years. Though the duo had released several killer, messy garage blues-rock albums prior to 2010, it was their Danger Mouse-produced BrothersLP from that year which catapulted the Ohioans into their current, globally adored position. In just under two hours last night, it was clear they guys are more than comfortable (too comfortable, perhaps) in that lofty perch.

With a relatively tame plain curtain for a backdrop, the Keys, along with two backing players handling additional guitar, bass and keys, began with a revved-up frenzy, pulling off the gas for only a few moments for the entire set. The first three tunes of the night were in and out like a precise, surgical strike. Set opener "Dead and Gone," from 2011's El Camino, "Next Girl" from Brothers and another El Camino track, "Run Right Back," set the tone for what would be an expedient set of songs that would satisfy the more recent converts to the group. Not one single note, breath or beat was improvised or anywhere near out of place. Such a rehearsed pattern can often come off as disengaging and benign, but the energy of the songs and Auerbach's own relishing of the spotlight kept the night from veering into Black Keys karaoke.

The group wasn't delivering a transcendent experience through their performance the way they might've when they played to sweaty clubs in front of 50 people 10 years ago. The point of Sunday night was clearly to offer up a party experience and provide a back-drop for high-fives and beer-scented, shout-along pleasantness.

The proceedings duly kicked up a notch when they laid into "Same Old Thing" from 2008's Attack and Release, as the fake curtain behind the band fell to the floor to expose a ton of stage lights and what looked to be 20 video panels of differing sizes. It was a fun blast of rock 'n' roll bombast. And in that vein of rock show cliché, Auerbach offered up his second "Dallas!" shout of the night as that song's final note fell silent. Arguably the band's most beloved song, the movie trailer-staple "Gold on the Ceiling" followed that up as thousands of shoulders were thrown out of their respective sockets from feverish air punching.

There were a couple of old school numbers thrown in for good measure as "Leavin' Trunk" from the Keys' 2002 debut album, The Big Come Up, was delivered in a wash of yellow and purple Mardi Gras-style lighting. And "You're Touch" from 2006's Magic Potion LP was sprinkled in along with a faithfully rollicking cover of the 20-year-old Edwyn Collins hit, "Girl Like You," which was a perfect fit for Auerbach thanks to the rich, fuzzy distortion of the original's guitar licks. Even with a cover song, which they have played at most of the shows on this tour and in the exact same mid-set mark, the Keys didn't see it suitable to switch things up a bit or provide the 90-percent-full AAC any real surprises.

To be fair, there were a couple of songs that slowed things down a touch in order to dive into the Keys' ability to be a solidly soulful group of guys. While Auerbach at times seemed to be straining to hold notes, that raspiness worked during the organ-drenched, R&B-flavored "Too Afraid to Love You," aka "The Song That Most People Sat Down During."

Not that the songs from the Keys' past three records, including this year's more psych-inflected Turn Blue, leave Auerbach short of opportunities to show off his bona-fide Guitar God-club membership card. Songs from the latter half of the set such as the stadium-stomping "Howlin' For You," "Money Maker," "Get Away" and the wildly popular "Lonely Boy," which closed out the regular set prior to the three-song encore, all provided ample, shred-tastic evidence to place Auerbach in the upper echelon of current rock guitarists and frontmen, his arch nemesis (and fellow Nashville resident) Jack White, be damned.

Earlier in the night, young British lad Jake Bugg, who has performed at the Kessler Theater in recent times, proffered an enjoyable, no-nonsense set that presented him as someone that might be filling the Verizon Theatres of the world after another album or two. His garage-pop was thoughtful and imminently worthwhile.

Though at times clinical, (perhaps too) efficient and relatively predictable, the show as a whole was a success, for the simple fact the Black Keys offer a fantastic product, and have done so for over a decade, regardless of their audience size. They play really fun, infectious blues-based rock and on this, the first night of Dallas' annual Snowmageddon, the boys from Akron hand-delivered a well-crafted product that more folks than ever seem to be hungry for.


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