On Friday night, St Louis was treated to a miniature Coachella with the Black Keys and the Arctic Monkeys teaming up, two bands that know the true meaning of rock and roll. In the last few years The Black Keys have changed the modern idea of how a band is “supposed” to behave and earned my massive respect with their no excuses attitude. This little bit of spit and swagger has also made its way into one of my favorite bands, The Arctic Monkeys.
Having seen the band many times before it’s nice to see them grow into the solid rock band they are today. Their latest album Suck it and See is by definition all about taking chances and the new direction of the band really comes together live. Most people define the band by their break though hit “Fluorescent Adolescent”, but if you stop there you have the lost meaning of the group. The Arctic Monkeys are a band that requires a study of their entire catalog to see them come to life. Songs like “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” and “I Bet You Look Good on The Dance Floor” paint a much broader picture.
While I do enjoy their pop sensibility it’s in the attitude and poetic lyrics of Alex Turner that draw me in. Like The Black Keys Alex makes no excuses and plays more for himself than the praise of the crowd. With their opening song “Brianstorm” The Arctic Monkeys ripped into the sold out St. Louis auditorium, bringing them to their knees, with the mind-melting drumming skills of Matt Helders. Helders tore through songs with ease while chewing gum and flipping drum sticks through the air just leaving me to wonder what seeing all of his ability would be like.
While I fell in love with the band’s earlier work they continue to impress me performance after performance and album after album. It is hard to think of a band that is progressing like The Arctic Monkeys. The songs get better and the live show has progressed into a rock n’ roller’s wet dream. It was only fitting that the band share the stage with one of the biggest acts in the genre, because in a few years I think we will see Turner screaming at his own sold out arena tour. Until then I guess we will just have to “Suck it and See”.
After my education in attitude and energy it was time for The Black Keys to take the stage. I had only seen the band once before and I’ve always felt like I was a bit late to the party when it came to the duo of Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums). The group has been together since 2001 and since then have grown into a Blues Rock power house. You can hear the band everywhere from a muzak station in Taco Bell to a sold out show in St. Louis, and every where they are heard they melt faces.
The Black Keys came out to a crowd filled with anticipation and excitement as they tore into “Howlin’ For You” and a backdrop filled with crazy red and black spurts of color from projectors. The set was filled with favorites from their most recent albums El Camino and Brothers as well as a few songs from the past, which were referred to as “oldies but goodies” by Auerbach. The first moment I really felt the music permeate my skin was when the Ohio duo played “Dead and Gone”. Auerbach and Carney played the song as if it was the last time they would ever perform it, and the crowd obliged their sacrifice with screams, cheers and dancing all around.
After the rock and roll religious experience that was “Dead and Gone,” it was time for “Gold on the Ceiling,” a personal favorite. The use of projectors were in full force again depicting several scenes of old country roads and pick-up trucks spliced together with old pictures melting in fire. While these images were great, they also were one of the biggest disappointments from the night. While monumental, the screens were only used a few times to help distanced on-lookers get a close up view of the show. I get that the two may want to focus more on the music, but there are also a lot of paying fans that never got to see their faces because of this absence. Saying that, the stage was really well lit and the use of stacked spotlights behind the band really helped to emphasize the power of the songs.
For example, one of the best performances of the night was “Little Black Submarine.” The song starts with a solo performance from Auerbach, lit only by a single spotlight on a darkened stage. Before the song kicked into full gear there was an enormously long wait to build up the crowd that worked completely. With a flash of lights Carney blasted in on drums and sent the crowd into a seizure of excitement.
I can’t end this review without mentioning the encore. Most bands do an encore, it’s expected and it’s really just become a two minute break for bands to hear their name chanted and recently acts seem to mock the idea. That being said The Black Keys really know about the beauty of the encore and did it right. They very adamantly announced that “Lonely Boy” would be their last song for the evening and wished everyone a safe trip home. When the song ended, the lights went down and they left the stage. Now, having been to hundreds of shows myself I knew that because the house lights did not come back on that the guys were not finished yet. They had many in the crowd fooled however. The hordes started chanting, becoming antsy and even sounding a little mad complaining about songs the band had not performed yet. After about ten minutes of waiting, two larger than life disco balls dropped from the ceiling, one over the stage and one over the back of the crowd. It was in this moment that the band finally came back out and started into “Everlasting Light” and the crowd went wild.
One of the things that The Black Keys have always been the best at is improvising their music live, which is a part of their bluesy style. “Everlasting Light” was a perfect example of this. Auerbach slowed the song down a bit and with the disco balls shining all over the arena he really got into the lyrics, reaching out into the crowd for the meaning behind the words. After a few waves goodbye from the members of The Black Keys it was time to put a cork in what was a perfect night, and perfect set from both bands and a lineup that will most likely never happen again. These two groups have embraced what it is to be rock and roll and because that, their music will never die.
The Black Keys’ setlist:
Howlin’ For You
Run Right Back
Same Old Thing
Dead and Gone
Gold on the Ceiling
Girl is on my Mind
I’ll Be Your Man
Little Black Submarines
Ten Cent Pistol
I Got Mine
The Arctic Monkeys’ setlist:
The House is a Circus
Still Take You Home
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
The View From the Afternoon
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
If You Were There, Beware
Suck it and See
Brick by Brick
R U Mine?
by Angela and Ryan Davis
photos by Angela Davis