Last Night: The Black Keys & Arctic Monkeys at the Woodlands

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The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion April 24, 2012

It's hard to find an honest-to-Jesus, meat-and-potatoes (and possibly bourbon-soaked) rock show in 2012. Enter the Black Keys and the Arctic Monkeys last night at that lil' ol' shed in The Woodlands, who delivered nearly four hours of superb fuzz and crunch to a packed house, aided by a bracing April wind.

Rock isn't dead, rock is just hiding in plain sight.

The Black Keys came into this year either overrated or underrated, depending on who you talk to, and depending on how big of a stick is in their ass. Last December's El Camino hit just as all the rock critics' year-end lists were hitting the blogosphere, with almost unanimous praise washing over all 11 tracks.

The exodus of the indie heads away from the joyous noise of guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney was expected as their star rose a few years back, and they slowly became the ass-shaking duo of choice for most red-blooded party people. Sorry, no offense, LMFAO.

You can either embrace the band as the stadium-rock heroes they are now, or mourn the band you miss from The Big Come-Up, when they were just another garage group in thrift-store rags with a Junior Kimbrough fetish. Personally, I will take the big-budget remake over another sweded version of the White Stripes.

Openers the Arctic Monkeys were given a hefty hour to trot out everything from their now wildly adventurous catalog. From their 2005 lead single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," the modish, fresh-faced Sheffield, England, boys somehow morphed into the robo-rockers of "Brick by Brick" from last year's Suck It and See.

To snatch a phrase from my words about their House of Blues set last August, "They are playing firmly from the crotch now."

This all happened within five years of time, as outside influences like the Black Sabbath catalog and Josh Homme turned lead singer Alex Turner and the band into something way more interesting than other mid-'00s MySpace-era casualties like the Cribs and Bloc Party. The Monkeys' surviving this long was improbable, and that's what keeps me coming back to their albums.

The Keys opened their career-spanning set with "Howlin' for You" from 2010's Brothers, an album that is arguably guilty for all this recent success, though long-term fans will swear it was Attack & Release two years previous. The quality of the record reeled the geeks in, and a few cheeky marketing ploys and music videos was the net that swept everyone else up.

The duo's live sound -- aided by a bassist and a multitasking organist/guitar man on the newer cuts -- doesn't compare to their recorded output. The wall of sound and the spaces for Auerbach to wriggle dirty bits ("Gold On The Ceiling") from his instrument they have in a live setting is no match for what could be considered the fun clinical grime ("Strange Times") of their catalog, well, at least up until 2004's Rubber Factory.

This isn't true for my favorite Camino cut, "Nova Baby," which live has a weird Brit-pop vibe to it.

There were times last night when they reached disgusting levels of volume ("Lonely Boy") which only seemed to make the venue feel smaller. This is a good thing. Coat the walls, er lawn, with the brains of the folks under the pavilion who dared stand to but seats so close to the stage.

The closest musical and historical reference that is available to me is ZZ Top. Please see "Run Right Back" from Camino. I am referring to the poppier chapters of Billy, Dusty and Frank's wild years. It's just a freaking shot-in-the-dark comparison. I'm not sure that Pat and Dan have their Eliminator yet -- damn, maybe it was Brothers -- or ever will, but I am glad they are making loud, dumb noise in the here and now and trying to get us laid.

Of course I could be wrong and they may be my generation's Georgia Satellites, which still isn't so bad. "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" makes you feel like a god when it comes on a bar jukebox.

Personal Bias: I feel like I have grown up with the Monkeys since their 2006 debut, and as for the Keys, well, I am a man with a beard who likes loud noises.

The Crowd: Decidedly more female than male, at least from what I could suss out from walking around the venue before, during and after the show. Funny thing is, girls are less apt to play air guitar. Us dudes wail away like the band is going to see us and pull us up onstage, Courteney Cox-style.

Overseen in the Crowd: When the Monkeys started their set around 7:30 p.m., a guy in a wheelchair and two friends posted up about two rows ahead of me. This doesn't matter much, aside from the fact that the wheelchair-bound man leaped from his rolling contraption to dance about three songs into the Keys' set. Did the band heal him with the intense power of "Run Right Back"? Nah, I think that the novelty wore thin. He was rocking out pretty hard and using all four limbs at once, so...

Random Notebook Dump: I was among a loud minority that started calling the Keys lame once their crowd changed, and that was pretty stupid. It doesn't matter who else is at the show, what they look like, or what color their skin is or isn't, or if they have Hatchet Man tattoos. Just as long as they are having fun and flipping their wigs and not stabbing me. But hopefully they are all buying merch. Because record companies suck.


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