On Friday July 15, I had the pleasure of attending the Black Keys at Hollywood Casino outdoor amphitheater. The audience anxiously waited for the sun to set over the horizon. People rushed to their seats and the stage lights lit up almost 3,000 people into standing in unison from the lawn to the center stage. As the Black Keys started playing, I realized not only are they playing songs I’ve known for years of my life—including the opening tracks “I’ve Got Mine,” “Gold on the Ceiling,” and “Fever”—they are adding something to them that gave them a new life and purpose.
Dan Auerbach, lead singer and guitarist, slid across his Gibson guitar like the blues masters of old, channeling Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix at the same time while adding flourishes and vocal improvisations that enhanced already well-composed pieces. With each note, Auerbach brought his wisdom and timeless, unmistakable old-soul voice that reverberated across the ocean of people. Drummer Patrick Carney played with determination, hitting hard on his trusty Ludwig drum set and feeling through every rhythm and mood, holding the pulse of the band together. It was like revisiting an old friend who has become the best version of themselves they could possibly be.
Everyone in the audience young and old were locked into the experience, hanging on to every note and word in mind and body as if it were scripture. Halfway through the set, the band played songs from their record Delta Cream, a hillside country blues cover album. The audience seemed to be locked into the trance that only the blues can put someone in. Guitarist Kenny Brown and bassist Eric Deaton came onstage and masterfully played the old Mississippi blues tracks, with standouts including “Crawling Kingsnake” and “Going Down South.” You could tell these pieces naturally inspired them as musicians and they held them dear.
They played for about two and a half hours but never once did they or the audience feel the length, and every song they picked felt like it was out of a greatest hits album. The highlight track of the evening was from the encore, “Little Black Submarine.” Auerbach, lit by a spotlight, brought out an acoustic and played the track, the audience erupted in applause and took over the vocals of the song. I was reminded this night that the Black Keys brought the Blues, one of the purest forms of music, to such a wide audience, and that they keep its spirit alive. No flashy fashion, no expensive pyrotechnics, no theatrics, just pure musicianship. It was without a doubt a privilege listening to the Black Keys and I will be back for more as they age like fine wine. | Derek Fultz