The Black Keys ACL Taping: Live Review

The Black Keys; photo courtesy KLRU / Scott Newton

The Black Keys continue to progress and develop their sound, amassing a global following and critically acclaimed list of albums. They recently released Turn Blue, their fifth release on Nonesuch Records and their most expansively psychedelic record to date with tracks pushing new limits with the sonic territory they cover. The band has been touring to support the new album and proved their chops with a blistering performance Monday night at the Moody Theater for their second appearance at Austin City Limits’ Taping now in its 40th season. We’ve been fortunate to cover a handful of acts this season: Nick Cave, Jeff Tweedy, Spoon, and Jenny Lewis. The KLRU television series consistently provides an intimate opportunity for fans to experience a band or singer-songwriter in a live setting without the distractions and the advantages of a state-of-the-art sound system with a stellar light show. The Black Keys came to the Moody Theater to do just this. With a setlist that spanned their nine album career, lead singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach joined forces with drummer and fellow Akronite Patrick Carney to impress the packed venue.

The Black Keys; photo courtesy KLRU / Scott Newton

The two were joined with multi-talented producer Richard Swift and additional guitarist/keyboardist John Wood to fill out the live sound and get the sound closer to what one hears on the recordings. The bigger sound has translated into bigger venues, filling arenas around the world. But Monday night was different. The original two were positioned in front, showcasing the freewheeling energy the two build off each other. While sometimes playing it safe and playing the hits, it was when Auerbach and Carney opened up got a little hairy and wild with the fuzz and feedback that performance raised to a higher level, showing the audience what a couple of professionals can do after a decade of experience fighting the good fight and reinventing their barebones style.

The Black Keys; photo courtesy KLRU / Scott Newton

For those who lament the sonic changes some bands undergo as their careers progress, be it greater production or smoother radio-friendly chord changes to which some may argue the Black Keys have fallen victim, the Keys showed why they can now deliver complex sonic passages when the simple drums-guitar combo gets old. Because let’s be real, there’s only so much you can do. And as artists, Auerbach and Carney desired to explore all options available to them, expanding their sound and finding new fans.

The Black Keys; photo courtesy KLRU / Scott Newton

Despite the new material, I got the feeling that the band felt the spirit more when they played the classics from albums past. “Your Touch” and “Leavin’ Trunk” showed the old magic and what got them started in the first place. Steeped in blues and soul, Auerbach and Carney sweated through the leather and denim to deliver an hour and a half set that thrilled the audience and breathed new life into deeper cuts and the cover of Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You” a popular Keys cover since touring in support of Turn Blue. Add another classic performance to the incredibly impressive curated collection of artists on the ACL Taping roster.

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