Five Thoughts: The Black Keys at the Chelsea (January 19)

The Black Keys perform at the Chelsea, January 19, 2020.
Photo: Gina Chong / Courtesy

1. The packed house surprised me. Even though I’m well aware of The Black Keys’ commercial reach—the gold and platinum-selling records, the plum headlining spots at every music festival, the near-universal ubiquity of “Gold on the Ceiling”—I still think of them as a minor garage act out of Akron, Ohio. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen them live since 2008, or maybe it’s because I don’t personally know any ride-or-die Black Keys fans. That is, I thought I didn’t know any, until I posted video of this packed Chelsea show to my Instagram, and there they were.

2. To their credit, the Keys tore into their songs as if they were trying to win over new fans. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney—backed by auxiliary guitarists Steve Marion and Andy Gabbard and bassist Zach Gabbard—ripped through an 18-song set in 80 minutes, the musical embodiment of “a lotta bang for your buck.” Stage banter was minimal; their set was all about the hits, and they delivered them as if they’d written them fresh yesterday.

3. Speaking of stage banter: By my count, Auerbach introduced Carney a minimum of three times, and perhaps as many as five times. “Let’s hear it once again for Patrick Carney on the drums.” I don’t remember him introducing Marion or the two Gabbards at all, which had me wondering if he hadn’t actually met them socially. Maybe he was hoping Carney would make an introduction. Things can sometimes get awkward on the road.

4. Set highlights: “Everlasting Light,” with its Prince-like falsetto vocal; “Howlin’ for You,” which is pretty much the same song as “Gold on the Ceiling” (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I dig the very glammy “Gold,” and they can’t rehash it nearly enough for my liking); the “Memories Can’t Wait”-like reverb baseline of “Next Girl”; teeth-rattling versions of “Thickfreakness,” “I Got Mine” and “Lonely Boy”; and “Little Black Submarines,” whose folky intro inspired a heartfelt audience sing-along.

5. This is unrelated: Seriously, why does the floor at the Chelsea ripple like that when a crowd dances on it? Not that I’m complaining; I know that it’s a feature, not a bug, and that rolling sensation has enhanced my enjoyment of many a show at the Cosmopolitan. But I think that it’s high time that we named the feeling particular to that time and place, and midway through the rocking second half of “Submarines,” I came up with a good one: Let’s call the Chelsea’s standing room level “the Ocean Floor.” Because of the waves! OK, maybe not.

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