what i’m listening to – the black keys edition

the-black-keys-5-credit-danny-clinch

reprinted from my tumblr blog, originally posted 2012

Now, truth be told, I am relatively new to this party. I freely admit that. And of course, attending their recent Minneapolis concert, I heard plenty of the “Oh I knew them before Brothers all these new fans are just wannabes!” To which, I generally have one response; “bully for you, that’s great that you discovered such an amazing band so early on! You’reclearly a rockstar!”

And yes, that was extremely snarky of me. I’m good at that, you’ll find.

Here’s the thing, having been a part of fandom from the ground floor too, it’s only through the addition of new fans at each stage does a band get to keep making music in this new and (not) improved world of music industry giants who love to swallow up any and all little independent record companies along the way and “trim off the fat” so to speak. It’s how amazing artists like Gavin Friday (for example) were quietly and swiftly dropped from their label too. So new fans – no matter when they pick up on how amazing an artist is – is essential.

It’s like I’ve always said – it’s not when you get on that wagon that matters – it’s the fact that you found the fucking wagon at all!

The Black Keys seem to garner a lot of this, though – rabid fans that want to co-opt this group for themselves. but I’m here to tell those of you who have yet to find this particular wagon (which is currently parked outside your nearest arena at the moment), find it fast – because you’re missing out. These guys are going to prove that they are hands-down one of the best groups to ever come out of the United States. The have got the goods in spades, people, and they are only going to get bigger.

Now, as I said before, I came to this party a little late, jumping on when my favorite local station The Current (and go listen to their stream now if you want to hear everything awesome in music right now) started playing the absolute crap out of the Brothers record. It also helped that this group had sold pretty much every song of that record to every advertiser on the planet – a la Moby’s Play.

So, yes, Brothers is a good start, if you’ve never really “heard” them before – you will recognize songs, I promise you. But their latest offering El Camino, for me was going to be the true test of whether or not these guys were going to be just a flash-in-the-pan kind thing, or if there was some serious staying power deep in this two-piece from Ohio.

They have staying power – in spades.

As an opener, Lonely Boy, rips through the speakers like a bullet from a gun – raw and raucous and like a punch to the gut on a hot summers’ night. And while the production values of this disc have changed the game for them somewhat, there is no question that the core of this heart is intact.

Dead and Gone and Gold on the Ceiling both give off this great mid-seventies feel to me – songs that I’d crank from my little transistor radio and sing at full volume while dancing around my room, my mother banging on my door and telling me to pipe down. Sorry mom, can’t do that!

The real stand out for me on this album though is track four – Little Black Submarines. It is haunting and hard and a little “Free Bird” too. But that’s okay – because that only makes it better. This deep and quiet track that just explodes mid-way through and becomes this screaming plea for resolution in a mass of guitar and drum.

Oh, can it be | The voices calling me | They get lost and out of time | I should’ve seen it go | But everybody knows | That a broken heart is blind | Oh, can it be | The voices calling me | They get lost and out of time | I should’ve seen it go | But everybody knows | That a broken heart is blind”

Money Maker, Run Right back and Sister return to the feeling of the songs preceding Little Black Submarines, more of the great crank-it-up music that they’re known for and are the three tracks that remind me most of what was started on the Brothers album. They sounds like they would have made a perfect fit on that release, but the final four tracks, Hell of a Season, Stop Stop, Nova Baby, and Mind Eraser have a strong blues influence and seem like they are setting us up for the next incarnation of the Black Keys.

Last month, thanks to the Current (again – best station ever), I was lucky enough to win tickets to see these guys live. I never, ever win stuff. Seriously. Its crazy my luck in stuff like this. But I did, and honestly wasn’t sure how well a two-piece was going to work in a full-on sports arena.

 

And, I’m full of shit. because while the Black Keys had two extra musicians on stage…they didn’t need them…at all. Their sound is so rich that the filler is just that, filler. It doesn’t detract from the core sound and only enhanced what was happening in the groove. And sonically, they filed that 20,000 seat arena effortlessly.

it was free of whistles and bells for the most part – yes there was a video screen playing ambient visuals to accompany songs, but it lacked the sheer madness that most bands/artists bring on the road with them nowadays (and you know who you are). There wasn’t 45 dancing girls or a full-on space station and it was refreshing to go and be so embraced by the music.

So good on you, Black Keys, I hope your wagon gets bigger and bigger – but don’t forget that it’s the music that keeps us on it.