Wow is the first adjective that comes to mind when describing the Black Keys current Let’s Rock tour that stopped at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Friday, November 22, 2019. The 18,000 capacity venue was sold out up to the nose bleed sections that went for $60 and a seat down to the front row section cost nearly $800 a seat. It was a triple bill featuring Shannon and the Clams, an Oakland, California punk rock quartet as the opening act at 7:00 PM. After a forty-minute ear-blasting set of diverse indie punk rock renditions, the stage was reconfigured for Modest Mouse.
The band was fronted by founding member Isaac Brock who is the lead singer and guitarist. After a twenty minute delay for some technical sound issues, Modest Mouse took the stage and performed a dozen of their classic songs like this writer’s favorite, “Bukowski” and “Satellite Skin.” With three drummers the driving rhythm throughout their set was so contagious that it was impossible to be present without tapping your foot or somehow being affected. Brock is an excellent guitarist and demonstrated his ability to create a driving force out of his six-string that was both sonically moving and visually entertaining as he played with his teeth.
Around 9:15 PM the Black Keys took the stage with drummer Patrick Carney and lead singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach occupying front and center stage. The duo originated in Akron, Ohio the same town that “Devo” came from, so it was understandable why during the thirty minute stage setup period a “Devo” song or two played over the PA system. Ohio itself has produced a number of prominent music artists including guitarists like Glenn Schwartz, Joe Walsh, and Phil Keaggy along with pop rock stars like Chrissie Hynde, Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were childhood friends that formed the Black Keys in 2001 after dropping out of college. They released their first album, The Big Come Up in 2002 on an independent label and the current tour is to promote the 2019 release of their ninth studio album, Let’s Rock.
Although the “Black Keys” are a guitar & drum duo made up of Auerbach and Carney just like the White Stripes were made up of Jack and Meg White, they augmented the band with additional musicians. For the current tour Steve Marion and Andy Gabbard played guitar behind Auerbach along with bass player Zach Gabbard completing the rhythm section. At this point in my life I’m not easily mesmerized by a band’s performance but right from the opening number with “I Got Mine” from 2008’s Attack and Release they blew me away. Auerbach started out with a Gibson Les Paul that he used to create his unique signature sound that would be comparable to Dick Dale or U2’s Edge. “I was a moving man in my younger days, but I have grown out of my rambling ways,” he sang with as much passion in his voice as the sounds his dexterous fingers derived from the fret board. The next couple of songs were the rocking out “Eagle Birds” and the soaring guitar of “Tell Me Lies” from Let’s Rock.
“Gold On the Ceiling” from 2011’s El Camino had the crowd singing the chorus as Carney pounded his drum kit with an intensity that nearly produced a driving beat that was equal the volume of sound that it took three drummers to create in the previous act. “Fever” was the title song of the 2014 album of the same name and it was one of many familiar songs in the twenty-one song set. When you attend a concert and are familiar with the artists work you expect them to sound as good as their recordings. Tonight my expectations were exceeded as I sat there in awe while I witnessed another great band performing at their peak.
They played six songs from both Let’s Rock and Brothers with three songs from El Camino, two from Attack and Release and one each from The Rubber Factory, Magic Potion, Thickfreakness and the already mentioned Fever. Just as Let’s Rock is a totally guitar driven album so was the entire concert with the absence of keyboards and the dominance of a driving guitar sound. Auerbach changed guitars almost every song and played a variety of different models and brands from a rectangular Bo Diddley style model to a “Harmony” “National” and” Guild Thunderbird.”
Auerbach and company moved from one song to another without too much chatter in between numbers so it was a pure adrenaline rush that threw out all the stops for ninety-minutes of balls to the wall rock & roll. The last time that I was in the Moda Center it was to cover Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band a few years earlier. The crowd tonight was just as enthusiastic singing back the chorus of “Baby I’m Howlin’ For You” as they were singing Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” that night. The song selection spanned a variety of styles, but other than a couple of semi acoustic diversions everything was electric to the ninth degree.
Audio wasn’t the only sense that was entertained because the screens behind the band were continually changing images with a variety of visuals ranging from projections of the band performing to more abstract variations in high contrast. By the time that the band concluded their set with “Lonely Boy” from El Camino the crowd wasn’t ready to call it a night so they created enough of a commotion that after a minute everyone returned to the stage for a three song encore consisting of “Hi/Lo” and “Go” from Let’s Rock to the finale “She’s Long Gone” from Brothers.
Review by Bob Gersztyn