“Anticipation has a habit to set you up,” goes the Arctic Monkeys’ The View from the Afternoon.
Truer words were never spoken leading up to one of the most anticipated rock shows of the year in Toronto on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
It was, quite simply, a modern rock match-up made in heaven as the Monkeys, the powerhouse indie foursome from Sheffield, opened up for American blues-soul-psych-rock duo The Black Keys at the hockey hanger in front of a sold-out crowd.
Both bands – the Keys return to play an outdoor show at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre on Aug. 4 with The Shins in another perfect rock pairing – like to play fast, loud, raw-sounding rock and roll.
The big difference between the two groups was the Keys’ startling visuals, created by Montrealer Karl Lemieux (Godspeed You Black Emperor), and their musicianship.
As the duo of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, backed by bassist Gus Seyffert and keyboardist John Wood in the dark, began their 85 minute set with Howlin’ for You, from their 2010 breakthrough disc, Brothers, the large screens behind them spring to life and never really let up.
Whether it was coloured, moving graphics, or projections, sometimes of Auerbach and Carney, or landscapes, cars, or buildings, it was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
“Not bad,” summed up Auerbach, the king of understatement, just four songs and two amazing guitar solos – on Howlin’ for You and Run Right Back, the latter from their 2011 effort, El Camino – into the evening.
Auerbach’s guitar playing was the undisputed star of the night, while Carney expertly bashed away on a kit right beside him.
Highlights included Howlin’ for You, Same Old Thing, Dead And Gone, Gold On The Ceiling, Thickfreakness, Girl is on my Mind, I’ll Be Your Man, Ten Cent Pistol, and She’s Long Gone as Auerbach delighted the crowd by stretching out many of the songs with his riffs and solos.
But it was El Camino’s Little Black Submarines featuring Auerbach alone on stage initially as the crowd held up their cell phones and sang along that was a true testament to the power of his guitar playing, especially as he was joined by the rest of the band and the song - along with the audience - seemed to explode.
Other new tunes like Dead And Gone and Nova Baby had a lot of buoyancy too, along with the older Brothers breakthrough song, Tighten Up, which caused a major crowd sing-along, and their El Camino hit, Lonely Boy, which came before a stellar encore highlighted by Everlasting Light – loved the two massive disco balls – and the electrifying show ender I Got Mine.
Arctic Monkeys, who have long sold out Kool Haus on their visits to Toronto, didn’t fill out the hockey arena in quite the same way with their furious, fast sound, which owed a great deal to the thundering drumming of Matt Helders behind a kit decked out in Union Jack flags.
Helders even took over partly on lead vocals on Brick By Brick as the Monkeys grew near to wrapping up their hour-long set.
Meanwhile, charismatic singer-guitarist Alex Turner did his best Joe Strummer, dressed in a black leather jacket with ‘50s inspired short hair and when he ditched the jacket for a sleeveless T-shirt he actually had muscles big enough to make a grown woman swoon.
I still remember when they were just a bunch of skinny kids who came across the pond with huge advance hype.
“This one is for all the Canadian LAY-DEEZ,” said Turner slyly before launching into the Monkeys’ break though song, I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor.
Turner, flanked on either side by guitarist Jamie Cook and bassist Nick O’Malley, also dramatically slide around on his knees and jumped off Helders’ drum stand during Still Take You Home after the band kicked off their set with strobe lights and Brianstorm.
Now four albums into their career, including 2011’s Suck It and See, the Monkeys should be bigger than they presently are in North America but maybe the spot opening for the Keys will go a long way towards introducing them to a much-deserved larger audience.
BLACK KEYS SET LIST:
Howlin’ for You
Run Right Back
Same Old Thing
Dead and Gone
Gold on the Ceiling
Girl Is On My Mind
I’ll Be Your Man
Little Black Submarines
Chop and Change
Ten Cent Pistol
She’s Long Gone
I Got Mine