The Black Keys at the 1stBank Center, 5/1/12 (photos and review) - Reverb

The Black Keys at the 1stBank Center, 5/1/12 (photos and review)

The Black Keys — singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney — are far from the 2002 duo that found time to rehearse when not mowing lawns and whacking weeds for an Akron, Ohio slumlord. But, by all accounts, they are still humble and hardworking Midwesterners (though now live in Nashville).

Auerbach still squints and shreds on blues guitars. For all of his inventive and memorable rhythms, Carney still slips in and out of proper time when playing live — dropping in a half-step too early or sprinting to catch up with his counterpart after a bridge. He still furrows his brow and wrinkles his nose like a linebacker for much of the set, still removes his Buddy Holly glasses after a song or two, for fear of losing them amidst his ever-flailing limbs.

Yet beneath the surface, everything about this band is different. The duo now plays arenas and headlines festivals. (Wednesday was the group’s second capacity night at Broomfield’s 1stBank Center barely a week after topping the Coachella bill.) The evolution is quite explicit: two backing members for the majority of the performance, far younger audiences, towering multimedia screens where a bulbous, inflatable tire once stood. Much of the set stemmed from 2011’s “El Camino” and 2010’s “Brothers,” two releases that all but bury the five records that came before. Songs like “Next Girl,” “Run Right Back” and set opener “Howlin’ For You” were layered and bombastic with searing guitar lines and choral sing-alongs reaching the depths of the venue — arena rock in an $8 dollar draft beer suburban arena.

Though it was in the brief moments when the two supporting musicians left the stage that Carney and Auerbach seemed most at ease. From the band’s inception through its 2008 tour behind “Attack & Release,” what you heard on record was what you saw live. For many years, Carney’s affinity for supplemental floor toms and accentuated kicks all but made up for the lack of a bass guitar. Auerbach would noodle during verses and pull mesmerizing solos from thin air between breaths. And it was enough. “Girl Is On My Mind” and “I’ll Be Your Man” harkened back to these club show days Tuesday night; wherein the empty space between Auerbach’s bluesy guitar was not muddled by keyboard drones. These few songs in the middle of the set were the closest the Keys got to the bare bones rock that enamored so many in the mid-2000s — a time when audiences hung on every treble-heavy note of Auerbach’s solos, every yearning lyric from his never-quite-satisifed heart.

The current chapter of the Black Keys story does find Auerbach yearning again, but it’s a different kind of want. On the 2010 single “Tighten Up,” it comes on the heels of a whimsical “Snow White”-esque whistle fit for a car commercial (or six). It rears its head in Auerbach’s Prince-croon-falsetto on “Everlasting Light.” The final encore number, “I Got Mine,” seemed all too fitting a choice, as Auerbach sang to the audience before returning to the bus: “I was a movin’ man in my younger days/ But I’ve grown out of my ramblin’ ways/ I’ve left that road so far behind/ And now I know I got mine.”

Full review and photo gallery of the Black Keys’ Monday show at the 1stBank Center.

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John Hendrickson is the managing editor of Reverb and an award-winning journalist at The Denver Post. Follow his rants on music and more on Twitter.

Glenn Ross is a Denver-based photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.