While the Akron, Ohio, duo the Black Keys are often labeled minimalists, because of their bare-bones guitar and drums lineup, the truth is their sound is anything but minimal. Reveling in their Rust Belt roots, the band takes a blue-collar approach to blues rock, hard-driving and no-nonsense. For Friday's sold-out show at the Electric Factory, guitarist Dan Auerbach dressed in a gas-station mechanic's work shirt and performed in front of an enormous inflatable tire, in tribute to their hometown's once-thriving rubber industry.
An inventive, but never flashy, guitarist, Auerbach plays both rhythm and lead, pitting lower-register riffs against high-note embellishments. "Set You Free," the second song of the night, established a pattern he and drummer Patrick Carney would return to again and again, following a two-beat phrase with a half-measure of free-form solo.
Out of such minute bits are the Black Keys' songs built. The propulsive chorus of "Your Touch" consists of a single note, repeated over a comparatively frilly four-note riff, its monolithic insistence mirroring the singer's elemental desire.
Attack & Release
, their latest album, breaks with their low-fidelity roots, courtesy of producer Brian Burton, who's better known as Danger Mouse, or one-half of Gnarls Barkley. But the slightly more complicated structures, and sentiments, of new songs such as "Psychotic Girl" and "Same Old Thing" fit right alongside the old. Stripped of their banjo and jazz-flute accouterments, the songs returned to their primitive origins, a welcome form of devolution.
Since the beginning, the Black Keys have been dogged by comparisons to the duo the White Stripes, but they have stayed closer to their origins, even recording an EP of songs by the late Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough. Their songs draw from elemental forces while steering clear of mere revivalism by tapping the same sources that fed their forebears. There may be only two people on stage, but generations stand behind them.