Less than a week after the release of their new album Turn Blue, The Black Keys kicked off their world tour last night by headlining Day One of Hangout Fest 2014. It was their first concert since January, but they showed no signs of rust as they plowed through their 90 minute set, debuting several brand new never-performed tracks!
After a gorgeous day of ocean-front music and fun in the sun, the crowd of 45,000 were primed and ready to rock out with the greatest garage band success story of all time. The swirly cover art for True Blue was ubiquitous on posters and T-shirts, messing with minds throughout the venue. We met up with The Black Keys just before they took to the stage and asked if there was any deeper meaning behind the image. “We just thought it looked cool,” laughed drummer Patrick Carney, whose brother Michael created the design. “We’ll show you our thesis later.”
The beach was a sea of glow sticks and beach balls as the familiar duo of Patrick and Dan Auerbach took to the stage a little after 10 PM, flanked by long-time “touring Key” John Clement Wood on keyboards and newbie Richard Swift on bass. Basking in front of a phalanx of stage lights, they tore into the gritty “Howlin’ For You,” off of their 2010 chart-topper, Brothers.
Carney went to town on his candy-striped Ludwig kit, black work boots keeping time as he chewed gum almost absently. Despite being the most outspoken band member in the press (ask him about Justin Bieber or the new Michael Jackson album), he likes to keep his mouth closed during performances. “If I had a mic , we’d still be playing Skipper’s Steakhouse,” he says. So don’t expect him to take on vocal duties anytime soon. “I could never do that. It takes a lot to stand in front of people and sing into a mic.”
He’ll leave that to Dan, who channels his inner Howlin’ Wolf to serve up the haunted and haunting gravely vocals that have become his trademark. In this age of autotune, the rough and ready voice sounds almost anachronistic as it rattles out of the PA system. He slashes at a gorgeous white Aeroline Coronado, the first of many vintage guitars that he switches out after almost every song.
They start off with a set of crowd favorites, following up the opener with “Next Girl,” “Run Right Back,” “Same Old Thing,” “Dead And Gone,” and “Gold On The Ceiling,” before turning to a title from Turn Blue, “It’s Up To You Now.” There’s a noticeable sonic difference in their new material, which takes on a languid and more melodic feel. It’s like Pink Floyd, if they continued as the blues band they originally started out to be.
Auerbach describes Turn Blue as a “headphone album,” an almost jam band-esque collection that includes the sprawling 7-minute opener, “Weight Of Love.” The sounds may be different, but he tells us that the approach to recording was still generally the same. “We still focused on groove, space, melody-” Patrick is quick to jump in, “And making fun of one another.”
The music isn’t the only aspect that sets Turn Blue apart from The Black Key’s past work. The lyrics reveal a much darker edge, illustrated by their next song of the night, “Bullet In The Brain.” Auerbach readily admits that the much of the mood was inspired by the brutal divorce from wife Stephanie Gonis. It’s a highly personal album, and he can’t help but talk it up a bit between songs. “We have a new record out this week. I hope everyone went out and bought it, so we can beat Michael Jackson in the charts.”
They keep the fire stoked by giving a first-ever airing of “Gotta Get Away,” as well “Fever,” they’re new single. “Fever, can you hear me? You shook me like I’ve never been. Now show me how to live again,” he intones. Playing armchair psychiatrist, these are words of a man working through the pain of a broken marriage, baring his soul for all. But a nine-year-old girl resting on her father’s shoulder in front of us pumps her fist in time to the music, and a giant inflatable duck gets passed around by the crowd. It’s a strange juxtaposition.
Sing-along anthem “Lonely Boy” gets the crowd off their feet and pogo-ing into the air before the band end the first part of their set. They return for four more numbers, starting with Turn Blue‘s title track -The Black Key’s current favorite- and “Nova Baby,” before coming in for landing with a spellbinding rendidtion of “Little Black Submarines.” Auerbach’s hands gently crawl over his acoustic National, shining out like a star on the dimly lit stage.
To end it all, Dan and Patrick dismiss the rest of the band and face-off for their newly assigned closer, “I Got Mine.” The musical brothers square off on opposite sides of the stage, locking eyes, rhythm and minds. Auerbach shoves his guitar up to his speaker stack, creating some Hendrix-worthy feedback while Carney holds steady with the jungle beat. When it’s all over, they walk off into a shower of fireworks, amps still buzzing. Ladies and gentlemen, that is how you end a rock ‘n’ roll show.
Head to the next page for a complete set-list!