Blues, soul, and indie attitude from the Black Keys

By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / August 3, 2010

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The sun had finally, suitably, set when Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach strode onstage Saturday and greeted the sold-out crowd with the quintessential query of a seasoned rocker: “How you feelin’ tonight!?’’

Without waiting for an answer, Auerbach bowed deeply into the hard, humid chords of “Thickfreakness,’’ the dinosaur-heavy title track from his group’s 2003 album, and the Bank of America Pavilion seemed to become instantly electric, totally alive. Right on cue, drummer Patrick Carney commenced to match those chords — an assortment of stabbing slabs, sly asides, and fuming riffs that sounded like a vintage muscle car going for broke — with some primal thunder and well-placed mayhem of his own. Hot on those heels came the smoke, sex, and smolder of “Girl Is on My Mind,’’ the good-natured jolt of “10 A.M. Automatic,’’ and a fistful of hopped-up dandies about losing, lust, and trying to temper both by kicking up some noise.

After eight years and six albums, it remains both astounding and heartening to hear what can be accomplished with just one electric guitar and a bare-bones drum kit with the right people at the helm.

Almost as impressive as the band’s sizzling fusion of hill-country blues and indie-rock attitude is the kind of crowd it commands. They seem to be everybody. A Black Keys show is one of the few places where you’re as likely to see as many guys in Hendrix and Zep tees as high-fiving girls in Okkervil River and Hold Steady tanks.

In truth, the Akron, Ohio-bred Keys — once seen as upstart saviors and keepers of the flame of Mississippi blues masters such as Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside — have little to do stylistically with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin (never mind the Hold Steady), save for the crucial fact that with their own methods and intuitive chemistry, they too are using older traditions to forge new musical coalitions (hip-hop producer and mash-up specialist Danger Mouse has been a regular collaborator, for instance).

As evidenced by sweat-and-steel-driven workouts such as “10 Cent Pistol,’’ “I Got Mine,’’ and a clutch of other white-hot numbers delivered during a searingly superb 85-minute set, the Keys’ reverence for the blues and soul styles to which they are deeply indebted was matched by a resolute disposition to not be strictly bound by them. With that in mind, we got the new T. Rex-ish “Everlasting Light,’’ one of the Keys’ more peculiar entries, which featured Auerbach singing soft falsetto over a faux-glitter groove.

The song was in perfect keeping with where the Black Keys are at these days. While much of their new album, “Brothers,’’ was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio — and there are certainly echoes of the sticky, storied soul birthed in that Alabama building back in the ’60s and ’70s — the disc is the Keys’ most eclectic work yet, with expectations, as always, upended.

Cymbals Eat Guitars, a last-minute replacement for scheduled openers the Morning Benders (singer Chris Chu had reportedly fallen ill), amply if not ably filled up the mostly empty Pavilion with a 45-minute set of scream-sung songs that were as constantly combusting as they were indistinguishable from one another.

Jonathan Perry can be reached at RoughGems

THE BLACK KEYS With: Cymbals Eat Guitars

At: Bank of America Pavilion, Saturday