The Black Keys at The Wiltern

Larson Sutton on October 1, 2019
The Black Keys at The Wiltern

photo credit: Steve Rood

For those that had waited four years for the duo of guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney to return to the stage together as The Black Keys, some would have to wait a little longer.  Hundreds stood outside of The Wiltern theatre in mid-city Los Angeles on this hot summer night, swelling the sidewalks with increasingly frustrated fans, as a snafu reportedly created by a secondary-market ticket broker log-jammed the entrance lines.  As sporadic chants of “Let us in!” cropped up, and security worked diligently to separate those with proper tickets, the show scheduled as a special tour precursor rewarding the Lonely Boys and Girls band fan club developed an unintended heightened sense of anticipation.

So, when Auerbach and Carney emerged onstage a few minutes after 9 p.m., as many scrambled to get into the venue, they were greeted with sustained cheers of overdue welcome and relief.  Buttressed by two guitarists and a bassist on risers behind the duo, the pair launched into the heavy crunch of “I Got Mine,” and the frenzied crowd, too, had theirs:  The Black Keys were back.

The band will tour the country this fall playing almost exclusively in arenas, leaving this warm-up date at the intimate, 2,000-seat Gilded Age movie house as a prized anomaly.  It sure didn’t feel like a warm-up.  Auerbach was razorblade sharp from the start, pushing his raging, overdriven tone through an imposing wall of Fender amps and Marshall speakers, bobbing to the pushing and pulling downbeat of Carney’s thundering herd of drums. 

As well, their trio of support players excelled, managing to be visibly present and relatively motionless and, despite Auerbach’s mid-show intros, basically remained anonymous and in-place on their platforms.  Inconspicuously but powerfully their layering filled out the triple-guitar-powered setlist that balanced a host of Brothers cuts with the latest from the Keys’ new album, Let’s Rock.  The neo-blues band (really, a duo) that is The Black Keys emerged from Ohio in 2001 and has seen its existence threatened at several junctures over that near-two-decade span.  To have them return, with a new record that has garnered strong reviews and a performance like this, is more than encouraging. 

On even calmer entries such as “Fever,” or during the sing-along chorus during a subdued “Little Black Submarine,” there was a definitively boisterous bonding of band and feverish crowd, like they had survived something, peaking on the arrival of the first notes of “Lonely Boy.”  Anyone curious as to whether Auerbach’s relocation to Nashville and/or his recent, more singer-songwriter oriented repertoire would dampen any of The Black Keys’ flame need not worry.  If anything, this 90-minute thank-you, and preview, for their faithful showed the duo and their added ensemble to be ready, willing, and eager to rock; and at no better time than after some of their most ardent supporters were sweating it out on the sidewalk.