The Black Keys, Jake Bugg Toyota Center November 15, 2014
For the past few years, there has been a lot of chatter about the viability of "rock and roll." Are any artists truly making rock anymore, or has the genre itself been so heavily diluted that its roots have totally disintegrated? Or, more importantly, why does so much stuff that passes itself as rock nowadays blatantly suck?
Back in September, KISS bassist Gene Simmons wagged his famous tongue and declared that "rock is finally dead," blaming file-sharing, TV talent shows and technology. Clearly he had not yet been turned on to the Black Keys. The duo originally from Akron, Ohio came to Houston Saturday night to dispel any doubts about whether rock is alive, resuscitating the audience with a killer 18-song set and a roaring encore.
From the opening chords of "Dead and Gone" (off 2011's well-deserved Grammy winner El Camino), Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney put to rest any rumors of rock and roll's extinction before an audience that was completely engrossed in the music from the very start, thankfully giving their full attention to the stage show rather than their cell-phone screens.
One of the Keys' most impressive qualities is simply how good they sound live, which was evident from the outset. Critics who might question the duo's ability to transmit their studio work onto the big stage would be quieted; the Keys sounded almost exactly like their recorded work. Generally, this is not always the best compliment for a rock group: sounding exactly as recorded can be viewed as a negative, where either the stage show is overly produced and needlessly polished, or the band lacks the ability to infuse the music with something unique for the live experience.
It's the polar opposite with the Black Keys. In concert, the band illuminates how their studio work upholds the sound and nature of a quality live show, and not the other way around. In short, seeing them live makes fans realize that the duo has cultivated recordings with the live-music lover in mind.
Saturday's stage presentation suited the musical vibe perfectly: instead of an excess of top-lighting and strobe, the band opted for a saturation of old-school stacked spotlights that created a beautiful backdrop throughout the show. The psychedelic color choices and undulating screen images accomplished exactly what stage lighting should, adding to the overall concert experience rather than detracting or distracting.
As the set rolled through four more songs and landed on fan favorite "Gold on the Ceiling," the crowd graciously accepted with subtle movement and light head-bobbing. It's not often that a rock audience appears so outwardly subdued but so completely engrossed at the same time, which again begs the question of what it means to "rock." Clearly it does not always mean moshing and aggression, but rather pure enjoyment of the sound at hand. As older favorites like "Strange Times" and "Leavin' Trunk" played, it became clearer that the Keys embody a musical era so many times mislabeled as bygone, but currently alive and much sought-after.
The remainder of the 18-song regular set delighted fans with hits: "Howlin' For You," "Fever," "Tighten Up," and "Lonely Boy" were all there, plus a great cover of Edwyn Collins' '90s alternative-radio hit "A Girl Like You." After the roaring crowd begged for an encore, the Keys came back to play three more songs, including the title track from their latest record, Turn Blue, as well as the Tom Petty-beloved fan favorite "Little Black Submarines."
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The Black Keys have managed to honor the classic American rock influences of blues and soul, and somehow create a completely fresh sound for today. While it is all reminiscent of something audiences have heard before, somehow it is still so new, and more importantly, so needed. Naysayers can put the question to bed: Rock and Roll is not dead, but rather currently on tour.
So, How Was the Opener?20-year-old British sensation Jake Bugg has quite the following of his own, and a decent amount of Saturday's audience came cheifly to see him perform. The initial part of his set was very low-key and struggled to hold the attention of audience members who were not already fans, but eventually he picked up the tempo just as the crowd started to grow.
Bugg's influences are clear: he employed his best Texas twang on "Storm Passes Away" and got down with his bluesy side on the perfectly mellow "Hold On You." Most obvious, however, is in his vocal styling: closing one's eyes, the audience might assume that Bugg is actually the illegitimate child of one of the Gallagher brothers. Overall it was clear why he has become a media darling; the kid has some serious guitar chops that are only going to improve over time. If he can marry his talent with a more engaging stage show, he could be around for a long while.
Personal Bias: We NEED bands like The Black Keys. While gently nodding at their predecessors through their sound, they are creating new music that continues the legacy of American rock and roll, proving that Rock is not, in fact, "dead." Suck on that, Gene Simmons.
The Crowd: Ranging from school-age to old-age, the crowd was mostly composed of white people not afraid to embrace their optical deficiencies with thickly-rimmed, plastic-frame glasses a la the Keys' Patrick Carney. They were also 100 percent engaged in the show despite minimal movement, proving that an audience doesn't need to mosh around to take delight in a show.
Overseen In the Crowd: Enjoying oneself during an amazing concert should not be such trying work but sadly I was surrounded by a handful of people who were struggling to conduct themselves with basic level of human normalcy. In a perfect world, I would have given their tickets to people who actually wanted to be there.
Random Notebook Dump: Hey, Jake Bugg...you are looking a little rough. Not sure if it is the incessant touring, the lack of sleep, or something you are putting into your body, but your under-eye circles and general appearance are saying that maybe it's time to slow down a bit. Also, how come no one fixed the screen delay during his set? It was off by several seconds and very distracting.
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