Ohio boys bring their blues-rock to WFC

By Aileen Torres

Good music, beautiful night, balmy breeze

The weather was nothing short of perfect on the evening of the recent Black Keys concert at the World Financial Center plaza. The event was the third performance of the Hudson River Festival, which kicked off in June, part of the annual River to River Festival.

Sky and steel created a harmonious balance, with the setting sun reflecting off the office buildings towering over Battery Park City. A balmy breeze wafted through the harbor, and a few boats navigated through the slightly choppy waters.

“Even if you don’t like music, you’d have to love this place. This is beautiful,” said Bret Anderson, 30, of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

The shades came out this evening, sported by a standing-room-only crowd of mostly hipsters, students, and young urban professionals in their 20s and 30s.

The Black Keys began on time, 7 pm, and played for about an hour. This blues-rock band, which channels the raw sound of the legends in the genre as well as ‘60s garage-band kitsch, is a down-to-earth duo that has a simple musical formula packed with an emotional, gritty punch. They have been compared to the “White Stripes,” although they haven’t made that comparison themselves.

Dan Auerbach, 25, is the shaggy-haired guitarist and singer of the group. His face is sprinkled with freckles, which you can only see up close since they are hidden beneath long bangs that hover over his forehead and eyes. Nearby, Patrick Carney, 24, sports a collared shirt, jeans and loafers. A college dropout he went from washing dishes to playing in this band, which has received critical acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone.

Carney and Auerbach grew up around the corner from one another in Akron, Ohio, where they still live. The two have been playing together since high school and have toured together for the past three years.

The crowd standing at the front of the stage was not the usual mosh pit crew, which seemed a bit strange since Carney looks like a younger Dave Grohl during Grohl’s stint as Nirvana’s drummer. The audience was mild. Some people nodded their heads to the music, a few swayed; most cheered politely after each song. All in all, a fairly domesticated lot for a rock concert. Carney was glad to see the large turn out. He had been nervous at first because there weren’t many people in the plaza when he was wandering around about a half-hour before the show, but he wasn’t disappointed.

The Black Keys are clearly not flashy rock-star personalities. They simply play good music. Auerbach doesn’t play his guitar very fast, but there is no need for virtuoso fingerwork when one has his intuition for a good, soulful riff. He tosses in some slides and channels the musical spirit of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters.

Auerbach’s dad, Chuck, was in the audience, having a fine time.

“You can’t tell me this doesn’t rock as good as anything,” said this self-dubbed child of the Sixties, who was swaying along to the music. His son credits his Dad for introducing him to: Motown, the blues (Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters), R&B, the Grateful Dead, and jazz (Billie Holiday, John Coltrane). Auerbach senior even knows the stories behind some of his son’s songs. He explained that “Airplane Blues,” one of the tunes on the set list that evening was probably written as a way for Dan to deal with his fear of flying.

When the band left the stage, the crowd called out for more, and the Black Keys returned for an encore of two songs. One was a stripped-down blues number. The other was a solid rock song that hearkened back to the alterna-grunge era.

“I thought it was a good show,” said Stephen Sandlin, 30, of Hoboken, NJ, who has a band of his own, “Haywood.”

“I’ve never seen them live before. As impactful as their CD’s are, their performances up the intensity a notch.”

“It was a lot of fun,” said Carney after the show. “It was weird seeing stockbrokers mingling around,” he added. “I think I saw Thurston Howell III pull up,” he deadpanned.

The Black Keys just finished recording their new album, which will be released September 7. Auerbach gave a preview.

“It’s more experimental and instrumental, like a mix tape,” said Auerbach. But rest assured that it will still contain the spirit of the blues.

WWW Downtown Express

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