This is the third time I’ve gone to a stadium show at the Garden. There’s a running line of indie turned commercial bands, main staging, where they once blew up the little old black box. Kings of Leon with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The Strokes (who Kings of Leon opened for in the black box, way back in early aughts) with Devendra Banhart. And last night The Black Keys with Arctic Monkeys. Friends who had seen The Black Keys perform warned that the band doesn’t have what it takes to keep the attention of a thousand misfits, screaming and standing. I worried that the concert might be a re-hash of the Death Cab for Cutie concert I went to in tenth grade. Nice music, but not enough to hold my attention. Enough to hold up a lighter until the flame blew out.
Arctic Monkeys took the stage first. The band received a certain amount of hype with their first album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, and a certain amount of hate thereon. Pop culture relishes the pauper to the king story, but loves the king to the pauper one even more. Take a look at Jesus. The funny thing is that the band has greatly matured since their “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” days. They’re adept musicians, who have continued to put out exceptional music even with a public throwing heads of cabbage here and there. They’ve played with the various genres of rock, mixing in the lyrical Stones, the heavy AC/DC, and little Don Henley whimsy here and there. Unfortunately, their music performing skills have yet to catch up with their music making ones.
Each member was spaced out about ten feet from the other, so that they could properly “fill” the stadium stage. In doing so, they lost the vigor in their performance. There wasn’t the feel of a band, but five great musicians who just happened to be playing together that night. They put their passion in their pop songs, the ones we’ve all heard, which left the new ones tepid in the wake of frenetic energy, which the lead singer, Alex Turner, is full of. Spewing an everlasting gobstopper of lyrics, faster than a normal brain can register them. In a smaller venue they would have brought the house down.
Then The Black Keys. I’m not quite sure when or where my friends saw the duo (now backed with a bassist and a keyboardist) play, but from the moment they stepped on the stage they owned it. The drum kit was up front, rather than in back, so we could see Patrick Carney bang away, while lead singer Dan Auerbach wailed into the mic and strummed the guitar. After a few songs, the backing instrumentalists left stage, leaving the founders to play it the way it was intended. A drummer. A guitarist. A voice. Boom.
They played a range of songs from their discography. They’ve amassed seven albums in the 11 years they’ve been together. The oldies were much more exciting than the newbies, though they didn’t disappoint none either. Their style can only be described as dirty. It’s unbridled rock ‘n roll. Manly but vulnerable. Country but big city. Muscle car but VW van. “Next Girl,” rang of the sorrow of redemption and lost love. “I’ll Be Your Man,” echoed the funk of a jive walking a 70’s pimp. For their encore, they brought down a giant disco ball to play “Everlasting Light.” For their final song they had the whole stadium clap to the beat, and I swear I’ve never heard so many audience members put hand to hand. The sound was like cannonball after cannonball, but only added to the music mayhem that ended a phenomenal concert.
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