Back to Rockville

Black Keys fill the Sprint Center with gritty take on some classic sounds

The Black Keys perform on stage during their concert on Sunday at the Sprint Center.
The Black Keys perform on stage during their concert on Sunday at the Sprint Center. Special to The Star

The Black Keys’ fusion of old blues, garage rock and classic rock is neither fresh nor original, but the duo from Akron, Ohio, has forged it into a sound that has attracted a large, diverse and passionate audience.

Sunday night, the duo of vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney drew more than 8,000 fans to the Sprint Center, a crowd comprising everyone from pre-teens to folks who were in high school when Jimi Hendrix was still alive. Backed by bassist Richard Swift and keyboardist John Wood, the Keys delivered a no-frills nuts-and-bolts rock show that was embellished by a light and video display that was at times dazzling.

The Keys are touring on “Turn Blue,” their eighth studio album, released in May, yet their set list drew heavily from its predecessors. They opened with “Dead and Gone,” from “El Camino,” then “Next Girl,” from “Brothers,” launching a show that would last nearly two hours and keep a crowd engaged, if not always spirited, throughout.

As they lit into “Same Old Thing,” the fourth song of the evening, a large velvet curtain behind the band dropped, revealing banks of lights and a system of two dozen moving video screens that dispersed and conjoined, broadcasting a variety of images. It added some energy to a stage show that was otherwise static. Auerbach is a front man of few words, letting his songs and his guitar play do the talking for him. He also keeps his jams relatively short and on point.

Among the highlights: “Run Right Back,” in which Auerbach showed off his falsetto; “Strange Times,” a psychedelic blues anthem; “Leavin’ Trunk,” the Keys’ scalding take on a traditional blues song, which appears on their first album, “The Big Come Up”; a cover of Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You”; and “Gotta Get Away,” a Southern-fried blues song that bears a Kid Rock flavor.

For much of the night, the crowd watched appreciatively, heads bobbing, until the end of the first set, when the Keys delivered three of their best-known and grooviest songs — “Tighten Up,” “Your Touch” and “Lonely Boy” — which aroused a heavy outburst of singing and dancing

They kept the crowd waiting in the dark for a good five minutes before returning for an encore that was almost anti-climactic. It started with two moody, midtempo songs from “Turn Blue,” including the title track, then returned to “El Camino“ for one more: “Little Black Submarine,” which started as an acoustic number but erupted into a heavy, full-band psychedelic rock-blues blowout. It was an appropriate end to a show that was all about reviving and enflaming old sounds

St. Vincent: The opener (born Annie Clark) is a performance artist and one whose charm is better suited to smaller venues, like Liberty Hall in Lawrence, where she headlined in April. Yet, about 5,000 or so fans were in their seats when she took the stage, and she gave them 45 minutes of prowess and intrigue.

Clark, a native of Tulsa, Okla., and a former member of the Polyphonic Spree, is a stellar guitarist and a captivating live performer. Her stage antics are often described as “robotic,” evidence of how much she has been influenced by David Bowie and David Byrne, with whom she toured in 2012.

Most of her set list — seven of 10 songs — was drawn from her “St. Vincent” album, released this year, including “Rattlesnake,” “Prince Johnny,” “Digital Witness” and her closer, “Bring Me Your Loves.” There’s a quirkiness to her stage personae, but underneath that, within her art-rock compositions, there’s a unique voice that resonates, even within the vast arena setting.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


Black Keys: Dead and Gone; Next Girl; Run Right Back; Same Old Thing; Gold on the Ceiling; Strange Times; Nova Baby; Leavin’ Trunk; Too Afraid to Love You; Howlin’ for You; A Girl Like You; Money Maker; Gotta Get Away; She’s Long Gone; Fever; Tighten Up; Your Touch; Lonely Boy; Weight of Love; Turn Blue; Little Black Submarine.

St. Vincent: Rattlesnake; Cruel; Marrow; Cheerleader; Prince Johnny; Digital Witness; Regret; Birth in Reverse; Huey Newton; Bring Me Your Loves.