Hill Country blues on ‘roids with the Black Keys in Cali

Black Keys
SOCO Music Experience
San Diego, California
August 23, 2008

To play drums in a guitar/ drum duo you have to have a heavy foot. With no bass to provide that needed thump, a drummer’s right foot has to be able to bring the thunder and fill out the bottom end by itself. Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney foot must be made of solid lead as his singularly powerful kick-drum drives the barreling intensity that is a Black Keys show.

With partner-in-crime, guitarist Dan Auerbach, the two play a brand of rocking old time hill-country blues. Actually it’s more of an old time hill-country blues on steroids. A whole lot of steroids. We’re talking Barry Bonds, home-run bashing, huge-head growing steroids. We’re talking hill-country blues on horse steroids that woke up in the morning pissed off at the world and deciding they wanted to take their anger out in four-minute blasts of pure energy. Quite simply they rock. Hard.

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On a typically gorgeous San Diego night, the Black Keys brought their heavy blues stomp to the SOCO Music Experience (think Southern Comfort marketing to a younger, hipper generation), and squeezed in their short set between Mexican rockers Kinky and festival closer rapper Common. With Carney and his heavy foot anchoring them down, the two used what precious little time they had to blast through a fourteen-song set that touched on all realms of their career, pulling out a couple of songs from each of the band’s albums. They started with the deep blues-dirge of “Girl is on My Mind”, and worked their way through the Junior Kimbrough penned “Everywhere I Go”, the oddly comforting “Strange Times”, before wrapping the night up with the double blast of high-octane adrenaline of “No Trust” and “I Got Mine.”

Carney and Auerbach have been rightly accused of being overpowering in concert at times. Performing every show with the gas pedal mashed to the floor and not letting up for the turns, it can feel like the two are beating you over the head with the soul of an angry R.L. Burnside. And while going 100 miles-an-hour is half the fun, stopping to enjoy the sights is also part of the ride. The most interesting parts of the nights came when the Black Keys contrasted their full speed ahead harder-faster-bluesier ethos with some delicate driving that allowed time to catch your breath. Auerbach’s slow bluesy solo to start “Stackshot Billy” was proof enough of this. But you don’t go see Black Keys’ shows for gentle acoustic ballads, you go to rock out, and it is in those softer, quieter moments that you appreciate the raw aggression that Carney and Auerbach play with that much more.

During “Busted” there was an unexpected moment of confusion as fireworks from the San Diego Tall Ships Festival lit up the sky line behind the stage framing the hard working duo. There was a brief moment in which I could have sworn that it was Carney’s heavy foot causing the San Diego coast line to explode from the sheer ferocity of his drum-attack. But thankfully it wasn’t, it was just two guys on stage playing music and making a lot of racket.

Two guys playing their take on the blues.

Two guys simply rocking out on a Saturday night.