When you have a drummer like Patrick Carney who can bash away with precision and animation, it makes sense not to hide him away near the back of the stage.
Carney was up at the lip of the Maverik Center stage Wednesday night during The Black Keys' performance, signifying that although there were two additional touring band members on stage, the emphasis was on the two key cogs of the Akron blues-steeped rock band: Carney and singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach.
Carney and Auerbach surpassed the lofty heights they had achieved on their most recent album, "El Camino," by unleashing a beat-heavy, surprisingly groovy set that resonated in the concrete under your feet. They demonstrated that if you didn't want to wait until May 30 to dance to LMFAO at the same venue, you could dance all you wanted to the Keys.
Right from the beginning, the band illustrated its devotion to the blues tradition of "it's all about the music" by unveiling a relatively spartan set with a focal point being four stacks of antique spotlights that gave off a retro vibe. Auerbach and Carney wore blue jeans and black shirts, preferring to keep the crowd's eyes fixed on Carney's bespectacled locomotion and Auerbach's hirsute hops. (A giant disco ball and a lighted sign of the band's name that were lowered during the encore were nice touches, though.)
Bassist Gus Seyffert and keyboard-guitarist John Wood stood in the shadows (where drummers are normally relegated) and ably helped The Black Keys replicate the robust sound of "El Camino," but the indisputable highlight was nearly a half-dozen songs midway through the set that featured just Carney and Auerbach. With Auerbach frequently stepping up onto Carney's drum riser and locking eyes with the drummer, the swampy, almost tribal rhythms didn't needed a bass line to slink.
"Good grief," Auerbach remarked at one point. "You guys got me sweating."
It was the most engaged audience I have seen in a while, with the first 40 rows of the general admission section fist-pumping in unison. And when the Keys performed the muted opening to the dynamic "Little Black Submarines," you could see the ultimate sign of approval from a 21st-century crowd: hundreds of smart phones recording the rare sight of Auerbach on acoustic guitar.
There were some problems during the night, though. Opening act The Arctic Monkeys were near-indecipherable with a sludgy sound, as if thunder were rolling through.
Auerbach's vocals were buried too far down in the mix, not allowing us to appreciate his improved voice, with that unmistakable sandpapery growl that he has developed. And at 80 minutes, the set was too short.
But then again, maybe Carney's drums had endured enough beating for one night. At the 38-minute mark, one of his drums had to be replaced.
The Black Keys
With • The Arctic Monkeys
Where • Maverik Center, West Valley City
When • Wednesday, May 2
Bottom line • The Black Keys deliver set with drums next to your skull.