Songs in the Key of Black

Musical genres seem to pop up faster than Ashton Kutcher movies lately. Technology has either shortened the cycle of musical innovation, or media saturation has ensured that any slight variation is immediately cataloged and marketed as a brand new entity. Some might label The Black Keys under such diverse categories as Garage Punk, Indie Rock, or Blues Rock, but I’ll just settle on calling them Rock (good ol’ rock, nothing beats rock) ‘cuz that is exactly what they did last Friday at Emo’s.

black-keys.jpgThe Black Keys are Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, a duo from Akron who have stripped rock of all artiface and accoutrements. Using only a drum set and tube-driven guitar to support Dan’s vocals, the two managed to fill Emo’s outdoor stage with a bombast to be envied by many quartets. Heavy riffs and thundering drums filled the bottom end usually left wanting without a bass, while still leaving enough space for Dan’s velvety-gruff voice to inject authenticity and soul into the mix.

Labeling The Black Keys as Garage Punk or any other esoteric category may be a fun exercise in music dissection, but this is a band putting their own stamp on a timeless formula of amplified blues that has more in common with Paul Butterfield than The Hives. Since the demise of Led Zeppelin and the irrelevance of the post-Mick (Taylor) Rolling Stones, alienation and aggression have generally replaced blues as the fuel of rock. Perhaps we’ve evolved so far that the rawness of blues truly seems edgy and alternative against a pop backdrop of Maroon 5 and 3 Doors Down.

And while The Black Keys were ripping the throat out of pentatonics at Emo’s, Austin’s self-proclaimed “home of the blues” was playing host to the ribald party funk of The Scabs; Antone’s has clearly changed more than its address since the days of Stevie Ray and the Fabulous T-Birds. Clifford may still give the occasional nod to legends like Buddy Guy, but most showcases clearly favor frat rock or the VH-1 crowd. With the Black Cat and Joe’s Generic Bar both relegated to the scrap heap of memory, it’s fortunate that Emo’s is still around to feature good ol’fashioned Rock like The Black Keys. Whether that makes it establishment or edgy probably depends on your perspective.

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