The Black Keys Bring in the New Year of 2011 With Real Rock and Roll

Where were you on New Years? Partying it up in some glitzy club? Down in Time Square freezing off various body parts? No no no... a true rock and roller was where I was... At one of 3 (or multiple) Black Keys concerts in Chicago! I think it also would have been acceptable to see the Flaming Lips who I think were performing on New Years as well, but seeing as how I'm from Chicago and I'm a fan of this band I knew where I'd be. As soon as I heard these concerts announced, I knew it would take a blizzard (or lack of ticket availability) to keep me from seeing at least one show.

Or should I say shows? I went to two of the three actually to celebrate my transition into 2011, the actual New Years Eve show, and the following New Years Day show.

And boy did the band deliver with different sets night to night, plenty of attitude, and of course the raw power and stage presence for which they have become so well known.

Here's the set list from New Years Eve:
1. Thickfreakness
2. Girl Is On My Mind
3. 10 A.M. Automatic
4. The Breaks
5. Stack Shot Billy
6. Busted
7. Act Nice and Gentle
8. Everlasting Light
9. Next Girl
10. Chop and Change
11. Howlin' For You
12. Tighten Up
13. She's Long Gone
14. Ten Cent Pistol
15. I'll Be Your Man
16. Strange Times
17. I Got Mine
Encore
18. Sinister Kid
19.Your Touch

And here's the set list from New Years Day:
1. Busted
2. 10 A.M. Automatic
3. Girl Is On My Mine
4. The Breaks
5. She's Long Gone
6. Everlasting Light
7. Next Girl
8. Tighten Up
9. Howlin' For You
10. I Got Mine
11. I'll Be Your Man
12. Strange Times
13. Ten Cent Pistol
14. Stack Shot Billy
Encore
15. Sinister Kid
16. Your Touch

As you can see, unique set lists one night to the next even if they are made up of the same songs, but a couple of cool added bonus songs on New Years Eve. Good sets though with a focus on the more recent stuff, but still plenty of the classics as well.

These two shows were actually my first time seeing the Black Keys live in person. I've seen plenty of video footage, more than enough to know what to expect, but as usual the video footage only goes so far. Without question Dan and Patrick are on the top of their game sounding vibrant, raw and soulful as ever even though the audiences have recently gotten a bit larger and I expect them only to grow further still. In fact, I'd say vibrancy is still the name of the game for these guys. Sure, the stripped down feel and their obvious talents help, but when it comes down to it they really just have the passion that makes the music come alive and feel dynamic and vibrant. As I've said so many times before, that's what rock and roll is really all about for me and if the two show's I saw were any indication, the Black Keys know what real rock and roll is all about.

Picking highlights from these shows is tough as these guys really nail each song and just tear through it without hesitation. The heavier numbers, like “I Got Mine”, “Strange Times” and “Your Touch” especially seem to erupt from nowhere, the duo attacking them head on. That isn't to say that the slightly lighter numbers didn't have the same soul. In fact songs like “Girl Is On My Mind” and the classic “Stack Shot Billy” sounded even more authentic, heartfelt and bluesy live. The new material is also sounding great. Some tracks from the latest release from the Keys on first listened seemed a bit more difficult to pull off on stage, but they come off sounding amazing... classic and somehow both vintage, and yet slightly modern at the same time.

I've gotta say I was especially impressed as a guitarist at these shows, not just because of Mr. Dan Auerbach stellar guitar work, but simply because of the absolutely massive sound he achieves on stage. As I said, I've seen plenty of video footage of the band's performances, but you never really can tell how it sounded in the room as you're getting the sound from the mics on stage usually, not out in the crowd. The Black Keys sounded fantastic from the crowd both of these nights though (although I should perhaps state that I was pretty close to the stage both times). They still do perform their earlier works as just a two piece, even though they now have a bassist and keyboardist join them for material from their latest album, yet not once did I think that additional instrumentation was needed. The sound was just so rich, balanced and thick, just as it should be for these songs. The additional instrumentation does help on the newest tracks, but again, I certainly wouldn't say these two ever need anyone else on stage besides themselves. The sound is so massively full with just the two of them... the songs don't need anything else.

The crowd was totally digging every song too, which always makes a show better. New Year's Eve was as crazy as expected, complete with balloon drop and a crowd ready to party, but amazingly the New Year's Day crowd seemed to be even more excited and pumped up. Even the band commented that “maybe they should just play New Year's Day from now on” as the crowd was totally loving every second. On this second night, even though the set list was a touch shorter than the night before, the Key's did seem to up the energy a touch to match the enthusiasm from the audience.

I also think it's fantastic that New Year's Day seemed like a bit of a “younger” crowd... well younger than me. The New Year's Eve show seemed to be people roughly around my age (mid 20s or so), but the New Year's Day show, everyone around me looked impossibly young, maybe 18-19 tops. I believe both shows were 18+ so it wasn't like one was all ages, but there definitely seemed like more young people on New Year's Day. Like I said, I think this is fantastic though, as although it sounds kinda strange coming from someone my age, it's great to see the “younger generation” into a band that Is not only at the top of their game, but plays real rock and roll and blues with energy, passion and a real sense of history.

Last but not least, let's not forget about the opener. I had not seen the Greenhorns before, but seeing as how I'm a fan of the Raconteurs, and two of the members are in both, they're obviously a band that's been on my radar. They played well both nights, but I'm not overly familiar with their music so I can't say much about their set lists. Definitely sounded cool enough to check out though, reminding me very much of the classic rock era (Cream and the Doors both came to mind at times). I do think they were a little more on their game the first night than the second though, but sometimes that's what happens. Still, I'll be seeing if I can pick up a few of their albums soon enough I'm sure.

Overall, I think I started my 2011 out correctly: rock and roll with the Black Keys in back to back concert experiences. Really you can't go wrong seeing this band at all regardless of the date or occasion. They're a killer live band, carrying on the tradition of real, dynamic, vibrant rock and roll, even if they're not just playing smokey bars anymore.

If you're a fan of the Black Keys... you should see them live if you haven't already and again if you have... feel free to go more than once, it's worth it and they're only getting better.

A special thanks to the nice people I meant at both these shows, especially those who were nice enough not only to buy me a drink to celebrate the New Year, but also to let me hang out with them and talk music while we rocked out. If you all happen to read this, hopefully I'll run into you all again sometime soon... probably at another concert... that was a good time and you all are good people. Keep rockin'

- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - www.fifthcolumnmedia.com -