BERLIN — The Black Keys are not a particularly verbose band; they are, however, an incredibly voluminous one.
That lesson was learned during their blistering sold-out show Saturday in Germany’s capital city, which was short on between-song banter — frontman Dan Auerbach offered just a few “All right, thank you so much”s and drummer Patrick Carney was basically mute (though he is pretty funny on Twitter) — and long on the kind of smash-n-bash blues/garage/soul that has become the Keys’ near-patented racket.
Drawing heavily from their breakout Brothers album and the equally successful El Camino, the duo, aided by backing band for extra oomph, tore through 90-plus minutes of sweaty, snarling stuff, a full-bore workout for their triumphant run of U.S. arena shows, which kicks off in March.
(MTV News was in Berlin to catch up with the Black Keys for a special event we can’t quite talk about just yet …)
But on this night, they also seemed to take additional inspiration from the venue they were playing: the crumbling, cavernous Treptow Arena, whose brick-and-mortar shell doesn’t disguise the fact that it once was a bus depot, an industrial bent that suited the Keys’ Akron, Ohio, roots just fine (check their 2004 Rubber Factory album for proof). Auerbach’s drawl on “Howlin’ For You” seemed just a little more raw, the guitars on “Next Girl” and “Your Touch” roared with diesel-powered authority, and Carney’s pounding on “Girl is on My Mind” recalled a chortling 8-cylinder engine.
In other words, the Black Keys seemed perfectly at home, even though they were anything but. New songs like “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarines” crackled with energy and attitude (Auerbach’s solos in the latter did both), and older tunes like “Hold Me in Your Arms” — which made an appearance during their extended, mid-set session as just a two-piece — was streaked with soul (and some serious riffs, too). “Lonely Boy” careened along on a surf-tinged backbeat and fuzzy, gut-box guitars; “Tighten Up” was the rare moment of pure-pop sheen; and “Ten Cent Pistol” simmered with a smoky, sexy tension.
All of those moments were positively devoured by the German crowd, 9,000 hearty souls who queued up around the block hours before doors opened, and fended off some seriously frigid temperatures — and snow — with beery cheer. (Germany has some rather lax open-container laws, to say the very least.) But they took that frenzy to an even higher level during the Keys’ encore, helping Auerbach hit the high notes on the swoony “Everlasting Light” (which was powered not only by the band, but a truly epic disco ball dangling overhead) and leaping for joy during “I Got Mine,” which extended into a ringing, reverbed jam before winding to a close.
Of course, at the end, Auerbach simply thanked the crowd, Carney chucked his drumsticks into the audience, and the band exited stage right. The Black Keys may not be big on making speeches, but they don’t have to be. On most nights — this one included, far from home but still swaggering — they get by on raw power alone.
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