LEWISTON — The Artpark cleaning staff undoubtedly had their work cut out for them Wednesday night with all the filthy riffs Black Keys tracked into this joint. Guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney wrapped up their summer tour by returning to Western New York for a hotly anticipated sold-out show.
Some of the duo’s riffs recall Creedence Clearwater Revival . But just as CCR hailed not from the cotton fields back home in Louisiana, so the Keys hail not from some backwoods of the Mississippi Delta but from the Rust Belt industrial city of Akron, Ohio.
Auerbach has a voice that when you see who it’s attached to you’re shocked. It’s like learning that a teen-aged Alex Chilton of the Box Tops was the man behind “The Letter.” What deal with the devil at the crossroads hath he made to play and sing like this?
Take Wednesday night’s opening song — the title track from 2003’s “Thickfreakness.” Auerbach summons some inner Robert Johnson to howl it out like that. Appearances can be deceiving.
That’s an important element as to why the band is important now — the mystery. Aside from the mass media saturation it’s getting in TV and movies, the band has a mainstream appeal that caters to different tastes. It’s more rock than bluesmen Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Johnny Lang. It’s not pretentious at all — an important blues legacy.
Behold “Girl Is On My Mind” and “The Breaks,” which came next. They’re totally accessible and dance-worthy blues gems.
After that clinic on blistering fretwork to open the set, the band “slowed it down” with a cover of Ray Davies’ “Act Nice and Gentle.” It makes perfect sense that the blue-collar Black Keys would be Davies aficionados. After all, the Kinks’ front man was widely touted as the workingman’s British rocker of the 1960s.
Then the band added a bass player and a some real black keys with its keyboard player. Other influences were quickly laid bare. “Everlasting Light” — from 2010’s Grammy-winning “Brothers” — updates the saunter and dangerously slinky groove of T. Rex’s “Mambo Sun.” Somewhere Marc Bolan is smiling.
Auerbach and Carney are not blood brothers, of course, but they play with the same understanding of each other’s musical minds that real brothers might. They were tight and sloppy — a contradiction if there ever was one.
Cage the Elephant opened the show and definitely took a page out of the Pixies’ 1990s altrock playbook. The lead singer of the five-piece from Kentucky channeled Black Francis’ primal yell on their songs including opener “2024” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Matthew Shultz worked the mic, stage and crowd like Kurt Cobain incarnate .
And what tour-ending night would be complete without pranks and other hijinx? Unbeknownst to them, Cage the Elephant got a video projection of workout guru Richard Simmons and other ’80s aerobics footage displayed behind them.
It should be said Artpark seems to have at least one truly epic coup of a concert every summer — Flaming Lips last year and Wilco the year before that. Kudos to the venue and booking agents for snagging another hot one.
Now, where’s that mop?