Home / Concert Reviews / The Black Keys w/ Arctic Monkeys @ Bradley Center
Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Black Keys w/ Arctic Monkeys @ Bradley Center

May 16, 2012

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Given that opening bands are usually so eminently skippable, often just some underperforming label-mate of the main act, it's refreshing to come across a show that basically has two headliners. Beyond giving you more bang for your buck, it invites you to contrast and compare, to consider how they fit together. Of course, it also sets up its own de facto hierarchy, inherently placing one group higher on the totem pole. There's no doubt that The Black Keys, just in terms of general popularity, have more than earned the headlining spot, but both them and Arctic Monkeys continually grab magazine covers and preside over a growing fan base. You don't reach that point without being savvy enough to join forces for a little cross promotion, but attaining the popularity these bands have achieved usually also goes hand in hand with a healthy amount of ego, which can make sharing a stage a possibly thorny proposition.

And as much as "co-headliners" smacks of egalitarianism, the opener still has to put up with a slightly smaller crowd and bear the responsibility of creating an air of excitement rather than just basking in it. I myself missed part of Arctic Monkeys' set after an overly zealous security guard refused me entrance because I had a pair of foldable, over-ear headphones in my pocket. Apparently he was afraid I would huck them at Dan Auerbach's head. (Seriously, do people throw valuables at the stage? These were a nice, expensive pair of headphones; it's not as if I was carrying a brick or a bucket of past-their-prime tomatoes.)

When I finally got past the gates and navigated through the Bradley Center's off-putting ambiance to my seat, I found the Sheffield, United Kingdom, combo in much the same shape they were in when they played the Rave last year, laying down razor-sharp renditions of their very British, snarky, yet keenly observed, pop-rock. They pulled songs from across their four studio albums, which dip in different directions without deviating too much from their usual dynamics; the material slots together nicely live. There seems to be a bit more rock-star bravado in lead singer Alex Turner's stage presence and banter, but he may have just needed to project and play it up for the benefit of those in the cheap seats.

Like Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys trade in subtle variations on a signature sound, but you would think their brawny blues-rock would offer them more room to flex their muscles than the lads' constructed, hooky song craft. Unfortunately, they didn't capitalize on that freedom. Their entire performance, including hits like "Tighten Up" and "Your Touch," was spot on, but faithful to a fault. It would have been nice if they had used what you've heard a million times on the radio as the jumping-off point for extended jams, but that was not the case. Still, as they are, the songs are great, and Auerbach's blustery, fuzzed-out guitar and Patrick Carney's gut-punch drums fit together like a lock and key, but presented here they felt a little like an incredibly well-made movie where nothing really happens. It's not that it was sloppy or phoned in, just a little too cautious to be really memorable. They're still worth catching live, but in a better venue; at least their light show made up for having to see them in a cavernous, echo-y room. Maybe it's good that these name acts are touring together. Slight imperfections are easier to excuse when you're getting two for one.