Black Keys, Jay Reatard

The Wiltern, April 1

By Jonah Flicker

We’ll get to the white-boy blues-rock in just a sec, but first we have a very serious matter to discuss: the awesomeness of Jay Reatard. I have had his most recent release, Blood Visions, playing on repeat for the past few months, and I arrived at tonight’s concert armed with the conviction that the opening act would upset the headliner. I was right. Jay and his band (guitar, bass, drums, done and done) goosed the Wiltern with their reincarnated-Ramones punk rock, a trio of Comic Book Guys completely unconcerned with cool – I mean, dude’s drummer looks like Bruce Vilanch.

The polish of his recorded sound may have been removed from the equation, but Jay’s prepubescent punk fury, augmented by V-shaped guitars, long hair, and tight jeans, more than made up for it. The barrage of songs literally left almost no room to breathe, as Reatard and company launched into one tune as soon as the previous one ended – but that’s the way it fucking should be. Stage banter is awkward, annoying, and overrated unless you’re really good at it. Jay is now signed to Matador, so expect to hear a lot more from him real soon.

All photos by Timothy Norris

OK, I’m not gonna even mention John Spencer Blues Explosion, Two Gallants, or the Rolling Stones in this review of the Black Keys live performance. Oops. I am going to mention their stage set piece, a cheesy inflatable tire that said “Black Keys” on it. You’re from Ohio, electoral battleground state and part of the “real” America, we get it. But that doesn’t give you the right to pretend you’re in the movie Tommy Boy and you have to help Chris Farley ingratiate himself with the Ohio autoworker community. I’m also going to mention the White Stripes, because I would choose the blues-infused sweat of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and his ruggedly soulful vocals over Jack and Meg any day.

Anyway, the music: Auerbach’s guitar work and Patrick Carney’s drumming aren’t the most nuanced, as they seem to quite capably pound out the same riffs over and over again. In its live, stripped-down form, I missed Danger Mouse’s production on their latest, Attack & Release, just a little bit. But playing as a duo is hard, and cribbing your catalog from the musical greats of the Mississippi Delta is a slippery slope that often lands in a heap of mud.

Fortunately, Black Keys mostly manage to handle both challenges with aplomb, respect, and technical proficiency. And I’ll be damned if they aren’t one of the more popular indie rock bands in America right now, judging by the crowd’s enthusiasm at this sold-out show. Hippies, frat boys, and indie-rockers alike seem to really dig this band. After the tenth sludgy blues progression, I was ready to call it a night, but kudos to Black Keys for doing what they do the way they do it, and doing it and doing it and doing it well.

All photos by Timothy Norris. Click here for more photos from the show.

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