« Alanis Over, Not Out | Main | Remembering The One And Only Evan Farrell »

Keys To The Kingdom

Black_keys_the_03l If there was any doubt we were in Akron, Ohio, the enormous rubber tire hanging from the stage during the Black Keys' Dec. 22 set at the Civic Theatre was a dead giveaway. In this once prosperous factory town, the Keys have become something not seen since the days of Devo and the Pretenders: a nationally known rock group that is not only immensely proud of its Ohio roots, but is nurturing other up-and-coming talents while it achieves mainstream success on its own terms.

For a long time, Akronites didn't have much to be proud of. Akron is a wonderful place to grow up, but since the rubber factories fled for other states or even Japan, there's been no overarching identity to the place. For most, it's somewhere you leave when you're 18 and only return to on occasion to visit Mom and Dad and wolf down a few Skyway double cheeseburgers.

But Black Keys principals Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney are doing it differently. Instead of fleeing their hometown at the first sign of bigger things on the horizon, they've hunkered down, building their own recording studio, playing local shows whenever their schedules allow and working with other area acts (Carney recently released a compilation of them on his own Audio Eagle imprint) to establish a long-absent musical identity for Akron.

So this pre-Christmas Civic show seemed like something extra special, to say nothing of the fact that concerts are a rare occurrence in a theatre where many local kids grew up watching cartoons and old movies. Tickets were a hot commodity; folks hanging out at the ice-skating rink behind the venue offered J.I. big bucks for an extra, which unfortunately we were unable to provide.

But Auerbach and Carney warmed the sold-out crowd up in a hurry, with staples like "Busted," "Thickfreakness" and "Stack Shot Billy" highlighting the early part of the set. Later, a few new songs pegged for the Keys' next album, produced by Danger Mouse and due in the spring, departed from their blues-rock roots.

Foremost was "Strange Times," which saw Carney's tempo rise to a near-manic rate, while Auerbach's vocals bordered on punk but still retained enough of his familiar soulful strains so as not to confuse die-hards. A cover of Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" only reinforced the Keys' connection to the city.

And despite the fact that he's surely been enduring a lot of sleepless nights with a new baby at home, Auerbach's energy was boundless. And Carney's near-savage beating of his kit (which for still unexplained reasons is set up on the side of the stage) hammered home the all-around visceral experience. 

Earlier, Jessica Lea Mayfield set the table with sweet tunes that seemed way too wise and road-worn coming from an 18-year-old girl. "Chittlin," as her bluegrass-musician family calls her, strummed a few solo songs before bringing out a backing band that included her brother on the stand-up bass and Auerbach (who is producing her recorded output) on piano and unusually high register backing vocals.

As we nestled in during her set and gazed up at the faux-starry night sky for which the Civic is well-known, we were transported back to formative experiences in southeastern Ohio, and reminded that even as times change, home, and a great night of rock'n'roll, is still where the heart is.

December 27, 2007 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Keys To The Kingdom:


The comments to this entry are closed.

© 2010 Billboard. All rights reserved.
Terms Of Use and Privacy Policy.