BY MARK GUARINO | SUN-TIMES MUSIC WRITER
An old-fashioned rock and roll show broke out Saturday at, of all places, the United Center. That’s where the Black Keys performed a sold-out show without a dance troupe, video montage or elaborate lighting. There were only their instruments, two other musicians, and about 90 minutes of songs.
That’s right — drummer Patrick Carney and singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach — represent an anomaly on the arena concert circuit in the era of big gestures and low expectations. Their success over their last three albums, including the current “Turn Blue” (Nonesuch), have helped usher them from the clubs to the theater to now sports stadiums where they do what classic rock bands of previous generations were forced to do: play and connect through their relationship to each other, which has proven creates combustible music.
The virtue of their playing is in that relationship. Carney is not a typical timekeeper; During Saturday’s show he played around the beat and was restrained, not given into showy impulses. His drums were turned to face Auerbach who often walked to him, making eye contact from a few feet away when he wasn’t on the other side of the stage, or stepping onto a stage platform. They have played these songs for quite awhile now, but in their interaction looked for pockets to keep things on edge; on “Leavin’ Trunk,” a song dating back to their 2002 debut, Auerbach howled while playing a straightforward blues riff as Carney filled in with constant breaks.
Saturday was the first of two consecutive nights at the United Center. Bassist Richard Swift, his instrument fuzzed to the max, and guitarist-keyboardist John Wood, rounded out the band, adding textures and vocal harmonies that are now required of a growing catalog that has expanded beyond their template of raw blues. On “Run Right Back,” Wood played yawning lines on his slide guitar as Auerbach hit a staccato riff with his own instrument. All three combined their voices for falsetto harmonies that added to the intensity of the playing.
During “Same Old Thing,” the biggest gesture from the band came when a lighting rig slowly lowered from behind and on both sides. Bathed in white light, the naked stage design didn’t leave anywhere to hide, nor was there a need.