It's inevitable that some fans will abandon a band when it gets "too big;" music fans love the sense of being in on something small and special. At a certain point, when a band blows up commercially and starts attracting a more "mainstream" audience, many of the fans will leave the band behind and search for the next cool, small thing.
That will certainly happen to The Black Keys, now that they are arguably one of the most popular rock bands in America. I don't think Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are too concerned about that, though. If they were, they probably wouldn't be allowing their songs to be used in TV commercials and on the latest Twilight movie soundtrack. For every hipper-than-thou fan that leaves, 10 kids just getting exposed to The Black Keys will jump on board the bandwagon.
More interesting, though, is the musical crossroads The Black Keys approach on Brothers, and in their show Wednesday night. The duo's new music stretches far beyond the raucous drums-n-guitar blues-rock they made their name with, delving into soul and R&B and especially stretching Auerbach's vocal approach in new exciting ways.
At Wednesday's show, it was easy to know when new songs were going to pop up in the set--it was whenever the bass player and keyboard player touring with The Black Keys joined Auerbach and Carney on stage. The expanded touring lineup is an indication that The Black Keys' musical ideas are moving beyond the clamor they can strike up as a duo, and if they continue in that direction, fans could find themselves forever debating the "old-school," bluesy Black Keys versus the new (and I would argue, improved), more expansive version of the band.
Count me in the camp who wants Auerbach and Carney to explore every direction that strikes their fancy. Wednesday, the new material delivered by the expanded lineup were the clear highlights, full of sinuous grooves, plenty of hooks and Auerbach's best vocals of the night. Songs like the clattering, reverb-drenched "Howlin' for You" and whistle-abetted, swanky "Tighten Up" were excellent, as was the slow-burning "Too Afraid to Love You" and mid-tempo, loping grooves of "Ten Cent Pistol." Auerbach's falsetto on "The Only One" cut through The Depot's chattering crowd with ease, at least from where I was standing.
By comparison, the older material delivered by just Auerbach and Carney, while energetic and certainly popular with the crowd, just didn't work as well for me. Auerbach's passionate howls and Carney's manic drumwork are always going to be worth hearing, but I prefer the precision of the Brothers songs to the sloppier, somewhat jammy tracks from older albums like Rubber FactoryMagic Potion. and
That said, there was still plenty to love when The Black Keys did delve deeper into their catalog. "Stack Shot Billy" and the show-closing "Till I Get My Way" were both winning performances, as were "I Got Mine" and "Your Touch."
"This is the first day of the tour," Auerbach announced at the start of the 90-minute show. "We're a little discombobulated."
If Wednesday's show was truly "discombobulated," the audiences down the road have a lot to look forward to. And if The Black Keys current musical and career trajectory continues on the same path, we probably won't be seeing them somewhere as small as 1,200-capacity Depot again any time soon.