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All words: Ross Bonaime
All photos: Stephanie Breijo

It’s probably more than a coincidence that as The White Stripes started to fade away, The Black Keys started to began gaining the public’s attention, seemingly filling the void of popular garage rock band left behind by Jack and Meg White. Seeing The Black Keys live is kind of like seeing The White Stripes back in their heyday. Both bands meld blues and rock seamlessly and their live shows are intense, loud and masterful, looking both improvised and choreographed at the same time, but in a good way. The Black Keys have taken up the charge of great rock and roll music in the mainstream and their live shows prove they have what it takes to fill the huge shoes of The White Stripes. And like The White Stripes, The Black Keys will rock your freaking face off.

The Black Keys are no strangers to Merriweather Post Pavilion, where they most recently performed at last year’s Virgin FreeFest. This time they brought along Arctic Monkeys to open for them, a perfect choice. It’s hard to believe Arctic Monkeys have already been around for a decade, just as long as The Black Keys, and both have had completely different career progressions. Arctic Monkeys came out with a band, while The Black Keys are just now finally picking up steam. But when Arctic Monkeys started a decade ago, they were just a bunch of teenagers still learning their instruments. The Arctic Monkeys that performed at MPP clearly showed that they are masters of their craft.

Arctic Monkey chose to play their faster, more bombastic songs for their set, starting off with “Brianstorm,” which is about as powerful a song to start their 15-song set with as any. Maybe it was the fact that this was their last night on the tour, but lead singer Alex Turner and his band never slowed down, going from one fast-paced song to the next that played like a greatest hits lineup, a good thing considering that their newest material isn’t their strongest. However the further they’ve grown as a band, the harder they’ve gotten and their set showcased that.

The first half of their set featured songs from their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, a shot of adrenaline that included “Still Take You Home,” “The View From the Afternoon” and their biggest hit “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor.” After this hit, the band focused mostly on material from their second and third albums “Favourite Worst Nightmare” and “Humbug,” respectively, with only a smattering of song from their recent album Suck It and See played throughout the entire set.

Arctic Monkeys were wise to stick with their more upbeat songs as their set never really slowed down. The end of “Do Me A Favour” really shows have far this band has come as musicians and the build up of songs like “Crying Lightning” and “Brick By Brick” were made for live shows like this.

It was clear that the audience was mostly there for The Black Keys, with many people not having a clue who this British band with a mohawked lead singer was, but by the end, Arctic Monkeys definitely had plenty of new fans.

When Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys took to the stage, they instantly started with a pair of songs from Brothers, “Howlin’ For You” with it’s “da da da da da” sing-a-long line that got the crowd into it right away, and “Next Girl” that showcases the great bluesy vocals of Auerbach.

The duo then got into a run of tracks from their newest album El Camino with stand outs “Run Right Back,” “Dead and Gone” and “Gold On The Ceiling”. This trio showed the intensity of Carney and his greatness as a drummer. “Dead and Gone” prompted more audience participation and “Gold On The Ceiling” not only had Auerbach guitar shredding at his best, but had the crowd dancing along. I’ve never been the biggest fan of El Camino but this stretch of songs turned me around.

When The Black Keys performed at FreeFest, they had no problem focusing on some of their older songs, which was a nice surprise. As they played “Girl Is On My Mind” and “Your Touch,” it’s hard to think that new fans wouldn’t be heading for the old tracks after the concert.

The first song to slow down the evening was “Little Black Submarines” but the quiet didn’t last long as Auerbach and Carney gave it their all at the end-of-the-song blowout and not missing a beat as they went into “Money Maker,” the drum-heavy “Strange Times,” another great pre-Brothers track and El Camino’s “Nova Baby.” This all led into a great Carney drum solo, into “Ten Cent Pistol,” another great example of The Black Keys’ blues background.

To finish out their set, The Black Keys brought out the big guns, performing their two biggest tracks, “Tighten Up,” along with the entire Merriweather audience whistling along and “Lonely Boy” which prompted everyone to do their best impression of the dancing guy from the incredible video.

For their encore, “Everlasting Light” made sure their set stayed upbeat and followed by another great Brothers track, “She’s Long Gone” before finishing up the night with “I Got Mine,” filled with plenty of phenomenal guitar riffing–the kind that can only be done by the guitar greats.

Seeing The Black Keys live is like seeing the future legends of rock and roll music. Over their decade of solid released and steady touring Auerback and Carney have created one of the most fun and exciting bands and their live show truly reflects that. It’s hard to believe that it took so long for The Black Keys to come into the public consciousness, but if their performances are any indication, they are here to stay.

And some more shots of Arctic Monkeys…