A low, excited hum rumbled through the floor and dual balconies of New York’s West side sweatbox, Terminal 5. Though not yet full to its 3000 capacity, audience members were jostling for position on the floor and at the overhead railings, passing the time tossing around blue, yellow, and pink balloons. It was a Wednesday night and the third of five shows in Spin Magazine’s 25th anniversary concert series. A large video screen sat above the stage, throbbing with images and video from the magazine’s celebrated past: a tousle-haired Jon Bon Jovi grins widely from the magazine’s cover in the late 80s, a 90s-era interview with the ever-thoughtful Michael Stipe, a ’00s glamorous photo shoot with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Over the PA a diverse playlist ran through Madonna, Nancy Sinatra, Toto, and the theme from Ghostbusters. Little attention was paid, however, to our host and presenter; the audience had come to see The Black Keys.
They’d have to wait a few hours, though. In the interim, two solid openers took the stage. Athens, GA, three-piece The Whigs barreled through their roots-tinged garage rock set list with reckless abandon. Hair flying, skinny jeans clinging, guitarist/vocalist Parker Gispert hurled himself around the stage, while drummer Julian Dorio erupted from behind his kit, building songs with squelching guitars and fierce drum rolls to great effect. Bassist Tim Deaux brought a relative calm to the frenzy, focusing more on his instrument than the havoc around him. Standouts songs from their set included the hometown dedication, “Put Your Right Hand on My Heart,” and the gloomy “Dying,” off their new album In the Dark. The Whigs will pick back up with The Black Keys in September as openers for Kings of Leon’s US amphitheater tour.
Next up: Lee Fields and the Expressions. Whoever had the idea of putting a soul/funk act betwixt two garage rock sets deserves the gold star. Lee Fields fronts a tight, suited-up six-piece (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, sax, trumpet) capable of sounding like much more than simply the sum of their parts. The challenge before them–bringing soul music to a crowd of garage rockers–was great, but the band was well up to the task. Fields himself, cribbing a bit from James Brown, gave the youthful audience a fast lesson in style and showmanship. In an era of million-dollar productions competing for greatest wow-factor, Fields proved all that is required for a truly memorable show is an engaging performer working his ass off. Constantly entreating the crowd during song and chatting during breaks, Fields quickly developed an easy report with his audience, winning them over and gaining fans. He reaped his reward as the audience cheered for more songs once the band’s thirty minutes were up. Lee Fields and the Expressions are also supporting a new album–he has over fifteen so far–entitled My World.
Just around midnight, as less-persevering audience members could be heard mumbling “It’s way past our bedtime,” The Black Keys took the stage to thunderous applause. Not an inch of breathing room left on the floor, not a stretch of balcony left empty, the room went off. Not ones to waste any time (or perhaps just because it was already so late), guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney launched right into their set with nary a “Hello, New York!” By the second song, “Girl is on My Mind,” the duo were in their groove, extending breaks between each loud-soft-loud part, leaving plenty of openings for the crowd to cheer, and did they ever. Auerbach commented early on the audience was “a little more rowdy than regular New York City folks… I think I like it!” By the fourth song (“The Breaks”), the heat and humidity in the room is beyond palpable, and everyone is all too eager to ignore it.
The band gave back every bit of energy the audience unleashed at them. Auerbach shredded his voice time and again while Carney detonated from behind his expanded kit.
The set list was a well-chosen mix through the Keys’ back-catalog, with debut album The Big Come Up garnering extra attention and a few appearances by tracks from Thickfreakness, Rubber Factory, and Attack & Release. The heart of the show was dedicated to their current album, Brothers, for which they were joined by two members of the Expressions on bass guitar and keyboards. Crowd favorites tended toward more danceable tracks, among them “Strange Times,” “Howlin’ for You,” current radio hit “Tighten Up,” “Ten Cent Pistol,” and the charming falsetto of “Everlasting Light.”
Around 1:15 a.m., Auerbach announced their last song, but despite the hour and the rising specter of day jobs, the audience showed their disappointment, wanting to dance a while longer.
In case you missed the show, or any of the Spin25 concerts, you can watch them streamed live at their site (http://www.spin.com/spin25live) from August 2-6. The Black Keys are currently on tour in the US and Canada. Check their tour page (http://www.theblackkeys.com/shows) for dates near you.
Photos by Alyssa Fried