The Black Keys Recapture Intimacy at ACL TV Taping [Live Review]
A moment of worry arose when -- two songs into their Monday night Austin City Limits TV taping (Nov. 17) -- the Black Keys turned in a rendition of ‘Same Old Thing’ that all-too-accurately lived up to the song’s title in the context of the duo’s gigs since they hit it big with 2010’s Brothers: The performance felt nearly passionless without much trace of the wild riffage Dan Auerbach used to bust out regularly in the early days.
Yet that trepidation dissipated only a song later when the singer/guitarist added a searing psychedelic blues solo near the outro of ‘Run Right Back.’ Could it be that the Akron, Ohio-bred duo had finally abandoned the press-play mentality that made arena shows of the past two years seem stale? Well, not entirely -- there were still moments where Auerbach, drummer Patrick Carney and their faithful backing band chose to skip the jams and play it safe. But there was one element of this taping that did evoke a sense of specialness throughout: a small room.
The 2,700-capacity Moody Theater in Austin, Texas isn’t as cozy as some spaces where the Keys have asserted a wall-shaking thunderousness while touring behind their first five albums. Yet dips back to first album track ‘Leavin’ Trunk’ -- wonderfully enhanced by a backing organ line and an explosive guitar solo -- and ‘Magic Potion’ gem ‘Your Touch’ brought the vibe damn close.
Those were the sole forays into pre-Brothers territory (at what point did ‘Rubber Factory’ and ‘Thickfreakness’ become irrelevant?), but the enhancement of intimacy wasn’t lost on newer material either. ‘Gold On the Ceiling,’ ‘Howlin’ for You’ and ‘Lonely Boy’ sparked venue-wide dance parties, Auerbach’s fancy fretwork on ‘Too Afraid to Love You,’ ‘She’s Long Gone’ and set closer ‘Little Black Submarines’ achieved spine-tingling volume, and key cuts from May’s 'Turn Blue' resounded with a genuine warmth that isn't always front-and-center on the record.
Much of the difference on those latter tracks was tied into the performance: Auerbach’s switch from regular axe to pedal steel for the solo on ‘Gotta Get Away’ was seamless and invigorating, ‘Fever’ and ‘Weight of Love’ affirmed Carney’s chops as a force (finally) to be reckoned with, and the latter track likewise saw Auerbach -- during two extended solos -- improvising à la Pink Floyd in a way he never attempted to on the singles-focused ‘El Camino’ tour.
The only real throwaway was a cover of Edwyn Collins’ ‘A Girl Like You’ -- pretty damn catchy, but not a single riff in it that quite lived up the Buddy Guy-inspired polka dot shirt Auerbach sported this night. But hey, at least it was a better choice than reviving the pop-extravagance ‘Chop and Change,’ which saw the frontman favoring an extraneous maraca over his trusty six-string.
True enough, the set list was an identical snapshot -- minus a couple tunes -- of the band’s current arena tour, which circles back to Austin’s Frank Erwin Center Dec. 19 with stellar support from St. Vincent. Still, especially given these close quarters, that formulaic approach held up -- props to the Black Keys for catering to old-school fans by revisiting some of their distant past while (deservedly) capitalizing on their success as one of the most beloved rock bands of the last decade.
The Black Keys -- ACL TV Taping 2014
The Black Keys -- Setlist, Nov. 17, 2014
'Same Old Thing'
'Run Right Back'
'Gold On the Ceiling'
'Too Afraid to Love You'
'Howlin’ for You'
'A Girl Like You' (Edwyn Collins cover)
'Gotta Get Away'
'She’s Long Gone'
'Weight of Love'
'Little Black Submarines'