The Black Keys at Mesa Amphitheatre Last Night

Categories: Last Night
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Maria Vassett
The Black Keys playing a concert at Mesa Ampitheatre.

The Black Keys with Cage The Elephant and Stone Foxes
Mesa Amphitheatre
Thursday April 14, 2011

The duo is dead. That fact hadn't occurred to me until about ten songs into The Black Keys set at Mesa Ampitheatre last night when I realized the band had doubled in size after a few songs and was showing no sign of shrinking back to the two-piece blues-rock outfit we all know and love.

Any why would they? The last two Keys records, especially the newest, Brothers, are far more layered than their gritty early stuff. I'm not sure the band could struggle through those songs as a two-piece even if they wanted to, but when you're selling out mid-sized outdoor venues in a few days, why would you want to? It's not like you can't afford to pay a couple guys to play with you.

Hell, you don't even have to introduce the hired guns. Keys singer Dan Auerbach didn't, actually, giving two shout-outs to drummer Patrick Carney but never formally introducing the other two dudes who have apparently been coming on stage with him for about a year now. They may or may not be named Leon Michels (keys) and Nick Movshon (bass) and run a label called Truth & Soul Records. That's not Wikipedia official yet, so who knows.

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Maria Vassett

​It's hard to believe that a decade ago the bluesy rock duo was such a fresh idea. The White Stripes, of course, set the standard and The Black Keys followed it. They weren't the only ones. Remember The Raveonettes? The Kills? Mates Of State? Dex Romweber Duo? Two-piece rock bands were everywhere.

Some of those bands (plus No Age and Matt & Kim -- duos of a different stripe) are still knocking around. But the standard-bearers, the Keys and Stripes, who will probably go down as the biggest rock duos of all time unless you count Pet Shop Boys, have moved on in their own ways, the former by growing, the latter by breaking up so Jack White can pursue his two other more traditional projects.

So, it seems fair to ask, were all these bands bassist-less duos out of necessity or choice? Two people can feasibly tour in a small car and get paid the same amount a traditional four-man band does. When they get big enough will Matt & Kim end up with a stage show something like Arcade Fire? I'm inclined to think things will go that direction for any band with the resources to do it -- meaning, to me, the duo thing is pretty well dead as anyone who can manage to go bigger will. Maybe that seems obvious to some, but when bands like the Keys and Stripes came out, it really didn't seem like they'd ever have use for a bassist. 

Not that the Keys are any less impressive now. To the contrary, as they showed last night's oversold crowd during an hour and a half set that included great renditions of "10 A.M. Automatic" and "I Got Mine" they're probably a better band than they ever were. But they're also a very different band. The band that played a very good concert in Mesa last night for a bro-ish crowd that went bananas for "Tighten Up" is absolutely not the same band I saw play the Beachland Tavern back in 2002. This is, I think, a bit of a touchy subject for Auerbach, Carney, and some of their fans

"If we want a couple guys along to play some shows with us onstage, I don't think it's weird at all," Auerbach told the Minneapolis StarTribune. "We're not some kind of two-piece novelty act. We're a band. Green Day is known as a three-piece but tours as a five-piece, and no one asks them about it."

I'm not sure how seriously Auerbach wants people to take that argument, but I don't buy it. Green Day has always been a guitar-bass-drum band -- they just have a little more of each now, along with occasional keyboard-based frills. I saw Green Day in 1994 and 1996, and I've seen Green Day live twice in the last two years, and they're pretty close to the same act they always were, just with skinny jeans, classic rock sing-alongs, more rhythm guitar parts and a slightly fuller sound. And, it's worth mentioning, they still play a ton of their oldest material -- whereas the Keys tossed in a few quick numbers from The Big Come Up and Thickfreakness last night (someone else's setlist here) as the two extra players slipped on and off stage during the set.

There's nothing wrong with that, but let's be up front about things -- the duo thing was a novelty. It seemed like a great idea at the time (at least to me) and some great music came out of the era, but it's passed. When the Keys did strip down to the two members with intellectual property rights, they sounded great as always, but it felt a little less natural than when they did their new stuff with the unnamed full band. Clearly, the focus has shifted.

Which, again, is totally cool.

BK 2.0 is a great band.

Let's even give these new guys some names. 

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Maria Vassett
Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Black Keys at Mesa Ampitheatre

Personal Bias: I'm from the same city the Keys are and I've been listening to these dudes, and writing about them, for a long ass time. I honestly think I'm pretty objective though.

The Crowd: A ton of bro-dogs. Is this what happens when a band gets played on X 103.9 all the time?

Overheard in the Crowd: "That's the beer line? Oh, shit!"

Random Notebook Dump: Is this dude behind me really gonna yell Chulahoma all night? Eek.

One More Thing: We intended to have someone review Cage The Elephant as well but hit a stag with that, and I arrived too late to catch their set having forgotten that Mesa Ampitheatre shuts off the lights at 10 p.m.. I hear their set was awesome, though. Check out the song "Aberdeen" from their new record and our interview with guitarist Brad Shultz. Yup, you're interested in seeing them at Marquee Theatre on Tuesday, May 31, amirite? Tickets here.


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15 comments
jmart
jmart

I started reading this with the anticipation I would get learn something about the recent show or the band. What a disappointment. Only 1 or 2 sentences in the article are devoted to the music while the majority of it is devoted to discussing a lesser topic about the number of musicians in the band. I thought this was supposed to be a review of their music. You say "they're also a very different band" and "absolutely not the same band I saw play...in 2002" but never elaborate on the point as it relates to the music. You had the unique opportunity to see them before most people knew who they were and discussing their evolution should be the centerpiece of the story. Before relocating to Phoenix I lived in their home town of Akron, Oh. and would be more interested in how they've evolved as musicians since their debut in the small anonymous bars I frequented in northeast Ohio.

Quezo
Quezo

I'm a mediocre Black Keys fan, and didn't make the show due to other obligations, but I would've tried harder if I knew Movshon and Michels were playing! Those guys are really great. Nick plays in Menahan Street Band, the Expressions, Antibalas, & El Michels Affair with Michels, who also plays in M.S.B., and used to be a Dap King. Check any of these bands out and you'll hear what you'll be seeing in the next couple years on the festival circuit. See also: The Budos Band. Dang~!

Ryamse
Ryamse

Honestly... I believe you were at a different concert then I was. They were terrific and they played ALOT of rock and roll with just the two of them... Your opinion on the fan base is also off... The venue was practically on ASU's campus (so what did you expect)... I was in a crowd of at least 50 middle aged folks... The Keys are something special and seriously if you seem to be able to find their stuff on the radio then you must have your radio on 24/7.. because not only can I NEVER find them on the radio, when I mention who they are to most folks, no one has a clue who they are and when they finally hear them, they are hooked.... Your review was not positive in my eyes.. This band didn't have one fault Thurs. night! Best live show I think I have been too!

Dfactor
Dfactor

Another example REM - When Berry left, REM went from a 3 piece in studio to 5 or 6-piece onstage?

Bumbum
Bumbum

I just prefer it when Cizmar does any of the reviews....I can't stand the regulars. They are boring and lack creativity. I also think he should get the good photographers not the bottom of the list people. The pics ruin it for me. Not good...not good at all.

joe.distort
joe.distort

'A ton of bro-dogs. Is this what happens when a band gets played on X 103.9 all the time?'

i know that you know thats how it works

jeff
jeff

Boo. I prefer when Cizmar dislikes music. It makes me laugh. This did not.

BT
BT

I've been a Keys fan for a while now, and I couldn't disagree more about the duo thing being a "novelty". I don't think when Dan and Pat started writing music together they decided to remain a duo for the sake of novelty. The music they were writing just didn't require it. With the exception of a few old songs and the "Brothers" album, their sound has been built around the simple, raw quality of a gritty distorted guitar and drums. There are very few musical acts I can think of that don't take supporting musicians on the road with them, and that doesn't change the composition of the nucleus of the band.

TJ
TJ

Not sure how big of a fan you are considering they played three songs from Big Come Up and the extra two guys were only out there for the stuff they played from Brothers. Nice try at a little sensationalism though.

Phoenix New Times
Phoenix New Times

Dude, the venue is not really anywhere near ASU's campus. I mean, I guess it was in a neighboring city, but there are several large music venues closer to ASU (Marquee, 910 Live, etc.) and there's another college (MCC) that's closer. By Phoenix standards, downtown Mesa and ASU are not the same place.

Listen to X 106.7, you'll hear them played fairly often.

If people you know don't have a clue who they are, the people you know are losers. They got their first Rolling Stone magazine write up nearly a decade ago -- this isn't some secret find :-)

As for whether the review is positive or not, deem it how you will, it's my learned opinion.

Phoenix New Times
Phoenix New Times

I don't assign the photogs!

Not that I'm dissing Maria, pr agreeing with you, but just know that the photos are not my department.

Phoenix New Times
Phoenix New Times

Ah, I see a set list now, thanks! I'll correct above -- that's why I said "I don't remember" not "they didn't" obviously. Those early tracks are so quick, and I thought two of them were on Thickfreakness.

Ryamse
Ryamse

Dude... it's seven miles away and seeing that most of us are transplants it's considered "down the road"... and seeing that it's an outdoor amazing venue, anyone in their right mind would rather see a band there then at the Marquee. My whole comment was regarding your lack of knowledge that they played as a duo for quite sometime at this specific concert... you definitely had a great way of pussy footing around my specific review on your review..... One thing I will thank you for is the name of the radio station the plays them often....

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