EDMONTON - What a delicious coincidence that the Black Keys played Rexall Place on Saturday night — mere days before the return of Nickelback.
Remember how the Akron, Ohio, power duo so viciously dissed Alberta’s favourite bush party band in Rolling Stone magazine, and how they said sorry afterwards, that it wasn’t Nickelback specifically, just basically everything Nickelback stands for that’s the problem?
Well, this is the perfect opportunity — OK, excuse — to examine what makes the Black Keys such a big hairy deal of anti-Nickelbackian proportions.
Just forget for a moment that there is room in this world for both, that some of the 11,000 hipsters who turned up for the Black Keys show might actually also be — shudder — Nickelback fans.
Anyway, let’s get fire out of the way.
Nickelback is expected to blow off a tar sands-load worth of fuel at the show on Tuesday. No literal fire at a Black Keys show, of course — the music did all the cooking, thank you very much.
Then there’s the subject matter. The Black Keys have no songs expressing that a woman looks better on her knees, while Nickelback eschews tunes admitting that “I’m a lonely boy.”
The connection is clear: there sure were a lot of women at the Black Keys concert. Chicks dig intelligent, bespectacled, sensitive guys who can also rock.
The show was a blast from start to finish. The Keys pumped out a full, rich sound shot through with soulful, rootsy goodness.
Singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have managed to translate the sheer joyful abandon of jamming in a garage by themselves into a major force of nature.
Auerbach’s guitar seemed to be dialed permanently to melting level, while Carney’s thundering drums wavered this way and that, tempo-wise, as the energy level dictated, proving no “click track” was used, and leaving no doubt that humans were entirely responsible for the band’s power-soul sound.
This music was alive.
From the opening song, a speedy version of Howlin’ For You, the Black Keys served up one low-fi, bluesy stomper after another, the performances delivered with neither artifice nor inhibition. Dead and Gone, a new one, evoked the old-school R&B groove.
Others brought forth visions of the Crossroads where the devil offered that deal to Robert Johnson, or something like that. The roots of the American blues runs pretty deep for two white guys from Ohio.
Whether they had their backing band or not didn’t seem to matter. A section with just the two of them was no mellow interlude, no trick of minimalist, but a passionate, free-wheeling jam.
When the full ensemble came back to put Little Black Submarine into overdrive, the crowd lost its collective mind. And they hadn’t even gotten to Tighten Up.
Ending the set proper to leave the crowd wanting more — like last year’s show, the band played only about 80 minutes, tops — was the band’s latest massive hit single, Lonely Boy. There was great rejoicing.
This power duo thing is starting to catch on, thanks to the Black Stripes. The White Keys. Make that The White Stripes. There’s an entire piano in there somewhere.
And weren’t we talking about Nickelback there for awhile? Well, never mind.
Are the bands from the UK with similar sensibilities? It was a treat to see the opening act the Arctic Monkeys after 10 years of high expectations, thanks to the British music press being so frightfully up to date on the coolest bands in the UK, and therefore the world.
Live, first time in Edmonton, the band was slightly underwhelming, somewhat scattered.
See, there are only two kinds of rock bands: those to which you bang your head up and down, and those to which you bob your head from side to side. Important difference. A rock band tries to do both at its peril.
Some interesting moments came out of the split personality style: greasy, dirty, rawboned, back-alley surf punk, as if you could surf on the frigid North Sea, and other moments that sounded like a low-fi Oasis.
Give the Monkeys this much: there aren’t many bands to properly compare it to. They sound like they invented most of its sound with no outside input whatsoever. These days, that’s practically a miracle.