Listening to The Black Keys is, in many ways, an experience similar to listening to The Black Keys circa 2004. In 2004, Dan Auerbach and Peter Carney released the seminal Rubber Factory that, for the first time, started to give you an idea of how this two-man band from Akron, Ohio was going to break into the land of the Top 40. Songs like “10 A.M. Automatic,” “Girl Is on My Mind,” and “Act Nice and Gentle” all foreshadowed a variant of blues-rock raw enough for people intimately aware of who Lightnin’ Hopkins was while attractive enough for people who maybe thought the first couple Rolling Stones albums were all original content. The Black Keys circa 2004 were on the rise, playing the music they wanted without bending the knee.
In 2019, The Black Keys are no longer on the rise. Their most recent album, 2019’s Let’s Rock, isn’t a statement of intent as much as it is a confirmation of their lasting appeal. The Black Keys are no longer torchbearers; they are chiseled veterans of their spiraling success following 2010’s Brothers. They seemingly have nothing to prove other than proving that the early 20-somethings that created 2002’s The Big Come Up still exist somewhere in those early 40s bodies. If their live shows are any indication, the proof blazes through every hammered percussion of Carney’s drums, every riff of Auerbach’s guitar, and every elongated vocal track that revs from their collective consciousness.
Their performance at The Anthem was spectacular. Gone are the days when only Auerbach and Carney shared a stage. The addition of three guitarists initially feels extraneous. The beauty of early Black Keys songs was the constant presence of sonic voids. Each song blossomed on the limitations of a two-man band but those limitations created fluxes of emotion that left the listener to their own devices as each song welcomed moments of sparse interpretation. That intimacy is periodically lost when back-up guitarists fill the silence. But while Auerbach and Carney are no longer alone, their understanding of each other lifts blustering anthems like “Ten Cent Pistol,” “Strange Times,” and “Your Touch.” The highlight was their performance of “Little Black Submarines”; a perfect example of how to build a crescendo in a way very reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You.”
Listening to The Black Keys in 2004 was all about anticipation and impatiently waiting for them to push their music into the stratosphere. In 2019, listening to The Black Keys is all about the celebration of seeing two guys from Akron reach a level in music few bands every scratch. And, honestly, it’s just as exciting and hair-raising now as it was in 2004.