The Black Keys Live at the 9:30 Club

Live Review >>

The Black Keys photoThere are two of them. They’re from the Midwest. Their title includes the word “The,” a color and a plural noun.

Such are the obvious and overused comparisons between The White Stripes and The Black Keys, a guitar-and-drum duo from Akron, Ohio. It’s true that the Black pals, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, largely follow the White siblings-slash-exes’ formula of minimalist, bluesy garage rock. It’s also true that the music media’s constant association of the lesser-known Keys with the blockbuster Stripes probably aided in drawing crowds to the Keys’ sold-out show at the 9:30 Club on November 12.

But while their moniker implies a stray from the conservative, The Black Keys prefer the major chords. Unlike Jack White’s penchant for special effects, spandex and other contemporary quirks, Dan & Patrick stick to blues basics both in the studio and on stage. At 9:30, the result was a performance so authentic it should’ve owed to leathery baby boomers instead of the baby-faced 20-somethings that produced it.

Perhaps in an attempt to iron out this twisted timeline, the Keys concert opened with a resurrected blues-rock icon: the blue-tuxedoed and very leathery Nathaniel Mayer, who ironically spent much of his set urging his mostly motionless audience to “shake what your momma gave you” in a Beyonce-like fashion. But Mayer‚Äôs growling over a gritty, ‚Äò60s garage rock backing set an appropriate precedent. Once the drums and microphone were situated on the lip of the stage, Auerbach and Carney launched into a retrospective of their three albums ‚Äì especially their latest, 2004‚Äôs Rubber Factory ‚Äì as well as other elements of rock history. Auerbach‚Äôs beyond-his-years yowl is perfect for classic covers, like his scorching rendition of blues legend Robert Pete Williams‚Äô Grown So Ugly.

The look was perfect, too. Carney was suitably shaggy, and with his shoulder-length hair and wool sweater, Auerbach was a version of Kurt Cobain that injects Hendrix instead of heroin. Throughout the late-night performance (doors opened at 9), he lurched back and forth, nearly doubled over doing the duties of bassist, singer and guitarist combined. Carney also had to work overtime, at one point banging his snare with a tambourine for lack of an extra hand.

This multitasking ultimately paid off. Besides the Ouija-like blues channeling, the most remarkable aspect of the concert was the ability of two skinny white guys to create the thick, literally floor-shaking sound that enveloped the packed club for a full set and two – no, three throbbing encores.

It is interesting to note, though, that encore No. 3 – a full-force version of the sexy, chock-full-o’-solos Till I Get My Way – was delivered to a significantly reduced group of onlookers. Maybe it was rebellion against Mayer’s demands for booty-shaking, or maybe 9:30 suffered a drop in alcohol sales, but for the majority of the show the audience reaction to the Keys’ sweat-and-blood performance carried a tinge of indifference. Maybe making it as hard-edged blues band today actually does require some spandex.