The Black Keys / Modest Mouse Scotiabank Arena, Toronto ON, October 9
Published Oct 10, 2019The Black Keys serve up meat and potatoes rock n' roll with an arena-sized helping of swagger on their first tour in 5 years. Indie rockers Modest Mouse started their opening set with "The World at Large" — fans hurried to their seats as the lights dimmed and the plucky riff kicked off the night. Singer Isaac Brock seemed frenetic at times, as the band jumped from impassioned sing-alongs to jagged jams and dissonant droning. The eight band members sounded muddled at times during the 45-minute set, but shone on tracks like "Satin in a Coffin," with Brock's frenzied barks soaring over the wall of sound.
After half-a-decade off from touring, the Black Keys almost literally picked up where they left off — former set closer "I Got Mine" is now a burning opener, with Dan Auerbach's massive guitar riff slathered in cascading fuzz, and Patrick Carney's drumming powering the band along. New tracks like "Eagle Birds" and "Tell Me Lies" were sung along to like old favourites, while lo-fi videos of were projected on an enormous sheet hung behind the band. As they launched into "Gold On the Ceiling," the sheet dropped, revealing a monstrous video screen and dozens of lights that flashed along as the band electrified the crowd with a thundering chorus chant.
The band lulled through "Fever" from the much-maligned Turn Blue record before finding their groove again on "Next Girl." Auerbach and Carney were joined by a pair of guitarists and a bass player, perched on risers behind the duo. In previous years, the band would ditch extraneous members and play as a pair for a few cuts, but not on this tour. It seems that Auerbach and Carney have embraced their arena rock status, opting for a full stage that seemed freeing for Auerbach. With the 40-year-old not tied down to rhythm guitar duties, his embellishments came alive. Manipulating feedback from his wall of amps, adding tasty licks between verses, and face-melting solos as he head-banged and high-kicked next to Carney's drum kit.
The band broke out of the straight-ahead rock romps for some soulful falsetto jamming on "Everlasting Light" as sweat poured down Auerbach's face. While the guitarist wandered through some finger-picked blues, Carney remained in full control — a quick turn of the beat and the band snapped into the unmistakable groove of "Howlin' for You," with the crowd erupting through the biggest chorus of the night.
Despite the packed arena, the Keys still delved into what they called "Ohio basement music" with dirty garage jams like "Thickfreakness" and "Your Touch". A sweet rendition of "Ten Cent Pistol" and El Camino mega-hits "Little Black Submarines" and "Lonely Boy" rounded out the main set.
With no gimmicks, except for a towering electric chair that was wheeled out for the band's encore, the Black Keys stick to a winning formula. Their 2019 tour is called "Let's Rock." It does.