By Brian Ives
“This place brings back a lot of memories,” Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys said at the band’s gig at New York’s Roseland Ballroom on Friday night (Jan. 31). “We opened for a great band called Sleater Kinney here eleven years ago, Blonde Redhead was also on the bill.” That was then. This time around, the Black Keys’ show was part of a series of concerts celebrating the Super Bowl this week sponsored by Citi called Evenings with Legends, (which also featured “intimate” concerts with Band of Horses and John Legend, as well as events with football icons Mike Ditka and Eli Manning).
Back in 2003, it may have been hard to imagine that the then-two piece band (Auerbach on guitar and vocals, Patrick Carney on drums) would go on to not only headline the venue, but pack it with a very mainstream crowd who knew the words, the (air) guitar riffs and drum patterns to most of their songs. And that playing Roseland would represent not the pinnacle of their success, but a rare “small” gig for the band. But these days, the Black Keys (who now beef up their live lineup with a bass player and keyboardist) play much larger stages; in March of 2012, they sold out two nights at Madison Square Garden and they seem to have co-headlined every major U.S. festival. These days, seeing them at the relatively small general admission Roseland Ballroom is a rare treat.
But, it turns out that the Keys have emerged as one of the few critically hailed bona fide rock bands of the past decade or so who could justify a “greatest hits” album, where “hits” refers to songs that either got considerable radio play or have reached the public in other ways. The Black Keys, of course, have been one of the most synched bands of the past couple of years, so even without the considerable radio play that they’ve enjoyed, they’ve reached the public via their music appearing in movies, TV shows and commercials.
And that was evident in the crowd reaction: the first eight songs were welcomed by the audience as beloved classics: “Howlin’ For You,” “Next Girl,” “Run Right Back,” “Same Old Thing,” “Dead And Gone,” “Gold On The Ceiling” “Little Black Submarines” and “Money Maker” all had the audience rocking. This was, most likely, a very different crowd than the one at Roseland eleven years earlier, which speaks to the extent that the group has infiltrated the mainstream.
It’s admirable that they’ve done it on their own terms. They’ve probably reached as many fans via song placements as they have via the radio, the idea of them playing a Citi Bank show doesn’t seem incongruous or like any kind of “sell-out” (almost an antiquated term at this point). And if this was a corporate gig, it didn’t look like one on stage; Auerbach was wearing an undershirt and jeans (or maybe Citi just doesn’t enforce any kind of dress code). The band played as if whoever was in the audience – fans who paid for their tickets, or the many V.I.P.s at the show who surely did not – deserved a great show, and that’s what they gave them, from the opening song to the encore of “Everlasting Light” and “I Got Mine.”
Albert Hammond Jr. of the Strokes opened the show with his solo band, which attracted a few die-hards, but received mostly polite response. Until his final song, that is, when his cover of the Misfits’ classic horror-punk anthem “Last Caress” got the crowd going.