I could have sung their praises ‘til the cows came home. I could have raved about that blues-rock resurgence no one else seems to be doing these days. I could have admitted that, even though I’d already seen them twice, I’m still amazed so much sound can be created by just two guys. And how a show of theirs is, in the words of Meatloaf, like nothing you’ve ever seen before or will again. I could even have commented on Auerbach’s shirt, an embroidered blue number worthy of a Western, the mournful eyes that mirror his raspy “done me wrong” vocals, the beard that could make most men retire their razors.
I could have. If I hadn’t missed half the show. And before you berate me for not being on time, know this: I have been to my fair share of shows, and I abide by the same standard to which most loyal concertgoers subscribe. An equally astonished audience told me that even if we had arrived at 8 p.m. sharp, we still wouldn’t have been satisfied. I caught about five songs before Auerbach said “thanks a lot, see you next time,” my jaw dropped, and incredulity set in. At first I entertained the illusion they would award their adoring fans with a ludicrously long encore, a la MMJ’s legendary fall ‘08 performance at the Greek, whose seven-song addendum clocked in at a whopping 43 minutes. Instead, they played the requisite two songs and peaced out. Was it the venue? Perhaps the Fox Theater adheres to an unrelenting timetable that musicians are unable to overturn? Or are The Black Keys getting too big for their britches? Did Auerbach need to rush back to work on some more solo material, which I enjoy immensely but which sounds suspiciously not so different from what he does with drummer Patrick Carney? Was it merely an ill-fated ploy to keep fans wanting more, like waiting the obligatory three days before calling a girl?
I can tell you what I know, which isn’t much. Since it’s hard to see clearly through the haze of my rage right now, I will focus on the one fault I could find: “Psychotic Girl.” That’s right, I said it. Granted, it was the only song that sounded better on the recording. As much as the pair purports to scorn big studios and stay true to a live, stripped-down sound, what additional work that went into this track—the trademark banjo, haunting piano riff, and choir of ghosts you hear on the record—added a certain je ne sais quoi to the tune, and without these elements something was lost. Of course, they got it right back as soon as they launched into the final song of the too-short set, “Till I Get My Way,” but that’s a story for another day—and for a less disgruntled writer.
Yeah, they rocked the shit out of that half hour. But if I am going to venture from SF to Oakland on a Saturday night to see one of my favorite bands of all time, I sure as hell don’t want to be back before midnight, forced to finish the concert I didn’t hear in the car by playing “Attack and Release” on the stereo, closing my eyes, and picturing the stage in my mind…then drown my sorrows in Pliny the Elder at The Page when all I really wanted to do was see that Akron duo play a full set.