Aftermath: The Black Keys at Meridian

Photos by Mark C. Austin

Live-music fatigue is an awful thing, but it happens. It must be really bad for the people who only go to three or four concerts a year. But sometimes even us diehards have to say uncle.

And so it was at the Black Keys last night. Through no fault of the Akron-based vulcanized blues duo, I might add. In fact, when Aftermath learned the show was a likely sellout yesterday afternoon, I was looking forward to it more than ever. Tuesday-night packed houses don’t come around every week.

The Keys are a prime example of an all-too-common problem plaguing music these days: People are much more interested in developing a “sound” than they are in writing songs. Luckily, they’re one of the select few who can make it work, for the simple reason that Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach’s industrial-strength guitar/drum duets thrive on simplicity – a teeth-baring riff and an ocean of drums, and that’s about it. It would be wrong to read any more into it than that, but the Keys did an A-plus job.

The duo’s succession of sandblasted songs hit the crowd like the power-washer a friend back in Austin uses to clean grease traps. Each was somewhat different in tone and texture – the pre-show music included ZZ Top, Black Sabbath and the Beatles’ Abbey Road, the three points on the Keys’ tempestuous Bermuda Triangle – but each brought to mind the same image: Christina Ricci chained to Samuel L. Jackson’s radiator in Craig Brewer’s blues-soaked 2007 redemption diary Black Snake Moan.

Inevitably, the lack of variety wore thin, though. After about 45 minutes, I turned to my friend and colleague Craig Hlavaty, equally battered from this weekend’s Austin City Limits wringer, and said, “It’s just one stupid-heavy riff after another.” I meant it as a compliment, mostly.

“You listen to this when you’re pissed off,” Craig replied. “You listen to fuckin’ Modest Mouse if you have a girlfriend.”

After the sitar-tinged “Strange Times,” the pick of the litter on the Keys’ latest album Attack and Release, he and I wandered downstairs into the smoking area. We became acquainted with one Kim Baldwin, a flight attendant for Continental Airlines and one of the relatively few female Keys fans on hand. (It was even more of a bro-down than last week’s Drive-By Truckers bonanza.)

Baldwin, who also copped to enjoying Steve Perry, Layne Staley and Queensryche’s Geoff Tate (“I like singers”), knew exactly what was going on.

“This is total ‘70s burnout music,” she said.

This burnout couldn’t have put it any better. – Chris Gray

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray