The metaphoric rise of The Black Keys from a garage rocking blues outfit to one of mainstream rock’s biggest acts is thrown into sharp relief as the Ohio natives arrive in Toronto to play a sold out show at the grandly titled Molson Canadian Amphitheatre. Aesthetically drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist Dan Auerbach may not look like stadium rockers and they aren’t ready to compromise that for the bigger setting just yet. Aside from a modest light show, most of the dynamics came solely from their instruments.
Opening with the intense, dirty blues riff-heavy ‘Thickfreakness’, the duo bring a gut punch of adrenaline that reaches every corner of the lakeside venue and the 16,000 people packed into it. The majority of the early set is loaded with older tunes as Auerbach belts out gritty, filthy riffs and embrace their raw drums and distorted guitar identity that has characterised the majority of their existence thus far. However, it’s not until the mid set excursion into the more recent material from Brothers that they really seemed to connect with the fans. Joined by a bassist and keyboard player to fill out the sound, the raw-boned noise remains; just in an even bigger context. The four-piece began the section of the set with album opener ‘Everlasting Light’, Auerbach’s guitar roaring to fill the arena, his twangy vocals a dominating presence both in falsetto and full voice.
This is where the Black Keys reveal the pop sensibility and full-bodied sound that’s brought them recent success and helped sell out stadiums. The presence of the extra band members on stage fleshes out the musicality of their material, even accelerating the pace of their slower songs as if the band had something to prove, before they return to the original duo for an energetic, aggressive last few songs. It’s a shame, but the days of hearing the Black Keys in smaller venues are long gone. The upgrade to major status seems seamless and the raw blues sound that used to rattle the walls of little clubs, is now shaking stadiums. We better get used to it.