The Black Keys & Band of Horses

Hitting the eject button on summer is always an imperial bitch, even if you are a winter-set person who hates the heat....
The Black Keys : Live
The Black Keys : Live

Hitting the eject button on summer is always an imperial bitch, even if you are a winter-set person who hates the heat. A season so concurrently suggestive and stultifying deserves some salty sendoff, some symbolic mirror-matched marker in your mind of all that you did and all that you didn’t. Alpharetta, Georgia got just such a dog-day denouement when The Black Keys and Band of Horses saw fit to double-descend upon the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Saturday, August 27th as the former make their way around the country amid their terrifically titled Dropout Boogie Tour. Perhaps never have any two bands better encapsulated the bipartite bliss of summer as an elemental entity built on ennui and exploration. Certainly, no combo was ever better equipped to automatically eliminate any sectarian riots and rivalries occluding the kind of fun that encompasses both sides of your brain in equal measure.

Early James

Early James was the fittingly reliquarian support band for the ATLien version of the Dropout Boogie boom-down, and I would encourage anyone who is interested in ultra-distilled Alabama Appalachian roots music done in a shimmering brocade to check them out immediately. Signed to Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound, Frederick James Mullis, Jr. has a parchment lampshade of a voice arching over whole ludic wells of archaic meaning. Their set was like treading a time-honored path behind a battalion of homebirds who were actively paving it with new rhinestones for you just ahead of your every appreciative step.

Early James
Band of Horses

Trouble, like love of any strain, leaves a reverberation. In the case of Band of Horses in 2022, the resin-resonance was everything from divorce to disillusionment, and the echo of those exits and emendations is Things Are Great (QRO review), their sixth studio album. The stale cabaret of the traditional music press would have it that Bridwell and the Boys broke apart a bit and also broke from the tradition of their signature sound with the last record. Artistic growth and experimentation? The refusal to repeat a pattern just because someone said it was commercially viable? Heaven defend us. The next thing you know, we’ll have artists living outside of societal norms and defying preset boundaries with impunity. Sigh, the endless. In reality, Band of Horses were never broken or bereft of what has made them immensely special from their earliest beginning; they were and remain a pack of shape-shifting survivors cut of that great press of poets that has been pouring out of South Carolina since Peggy Parish and Pat Conroy, and even long before.

Band of Horses, alongside their southerly sound-brothers Kings of Leon, Blackberry Smoke, and Drive-By Truckers, have always been the Southern band that the South desperately needed. They inhabit all of the native wit, charm, work ethic, and eccentricity that ought to define this place utterly, and does in all the best spots with the best people. Would that there were more such places and people on the public main stage parenthesizing the flim-flam that tends to flounce the headlines.

Ben Bridwell is a man and a singer stepped out of time, seemingly sewn from sweetened stardust for this very purpose. On and offstage he is a Seussian empathy-evangelist, a devout love commando, and the real-deal truckstop troubadour so many think they are who are really just wearing the hat (and poorly, unbeknownst to them). Both he and his music doggedly insist that you surrender to a deadstock joy threaded with every form of the regular sacred. Bridwell’s piquant Carolina accent, with its dipping hammock in the middle of every vowel, magnificently matches the divots in his cheeks, dimples that would hold a shower of rain and that are visible even through the bluff of the beard.

The avian filigree of his voice on songs like “Is There A Ghost” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” in a live setting will do insta-away with any breeching you might have had in place between yourself and the pumpkin carriage of your emotional past pulled invisibly behind you. “Casual Party” this night was all anarchic swell, “Crutch” the blushing honesty of the selfish wish with the sour diesel smile, and “Lights” full of the kind of lyrical wildlife cinematography that can only be done in the outskirts of the rock-n-roll wilderness. Closing with the old-skool, crowd-crowed “The General Specific“, Bridwell’s voice becomes a half-open dawn mulling subjects both universal and discrete, holy and damned, demonstrating once again that the comfort to caviar ratio of Band of Horses is as intact, irreplaceable, and iridescent as ever.

Band of Horses Setlist

Benjamin Bridwell

1. The Great Salt Lake
2. Is There A Ghost
3. Crutch
4. Older
5. Laredo
6. Lights
7. Casual Party
8. No One’s Gonna Love You
9. The Funeral
10. The General Specific

Band of Horses
The Black Keys

The Black Keys have long made the kind of music meant to make your feet brawl-shuffle and your heart sag a bit. The juncture of highway blues and fuzz-gravel they occupy is a redlight district of both brothels and hard brakes. This is horse-drunk crust rock. It goes as well with adventuresome short-hair types, lawn chairs, and rosé as it does with all the many mechano-sensations and debauched dengue fevers of the leather underground. Tellingly, The Black Keys draw a crowd that is hybridized in precisely the same way; it is half jumpsuit-clad hippie-hottie and half middle-nilla maverick every which way you look, but the connective factor is a temporizing rumbustiousness shot right the way through each brace of satin grins on both sides.

Since their outstanding breakout full-length The Big Come UpThe Black Keys have been making blood-certain melodies for the unnamable animals that populate a kind of dirtbag aristocracy only true highway dukes and dames can see as royal. They entered the neo-blues scene in 2002 with a kind of migraine mutiny that carries forward even to the pacing of this show, as well as its itinerant theme of dropouts and dilettantes. Their performance is both slow burn and slow churn. The toothache of it evolves with the night and you do not end up anywhere in the sensory area code you thought you would by the time they step off the stage.

With a hilarious intro monologue featuring what sounds like a particularly immoral school principal deadpan asking parents in the audience “what the fuck is wrong with them” if they brought their kids to this show, the millionaire dropouts strolled smirkingly out like proud Breakfast Clubbers – Auerbach in his Blues Brothers shades, Carney stocious but stable and ready to go lethal on his candy-striped Ludwigs. Ramping straight into the rotary wing combat of “I Got Mine” and “Howlin’ For You”, they immediately smashed their gee-eyed torte straight in the face of any quiet expectation that age should have mellowed their sublimely unapologetic rot and rush. Throughout the frenzied fettle of “Fever”, the tsavorite swing of “Tighten Up”, and the rampage of “Your Touch”, The Black Keys laughingly hurled an axe into the back of any and all politer forms of rock-n-roll and lit afire the arbitrary avenues they amble.

Auerbach and Carney have a particular knack for turning anything into what Colin Meloy has referred to in another context as a “multi-suite song.” Recent tunes like “It Ain’t Over” bet strongly beside king-seated classics of their oeuvre like “Gold On The Ceiling”, which may as well have been sung by a shirtless pharaoh for the reception it got from an already-rapturous raft of concert-goers emboldened by drunken daring. The skeleton howls of “Next Girl” naturally complement Dan Auerbach’s suitcase hasp of a vox and his dusty falsetto on “Everlasting Light” is so vitreous as to make the lyrics nearly opaque themselves.

Dan Auerbach

By contrast, there is a prehensile quality to Auerbach’s guitar solos, an innate terseness that works to the advantage of what The Black Keys do best: swarthy commemorations to Howlin’ Wolf and lagoms of re-fangled Robert Johnson that rightly whip even a blues-illiterate crowd into a lather whilst simultaneously disproving that old adage that says, “You can’t run with the horses and hunt with the hounds.” You absolutely can if you know what it means to come up by the boot from Akron, Ohio’s grit-large garage rock scene and got taught the deep-end-toss way how to measure and mechanize your approach with the understanding that the whole race is a chamber pot full of poker chips and $2 bills. For all their skyward successes since, and in the spirit of this tour’s overriding theme, it is beyond clear from beat one that The Black Keys are still wearing that taught-hard tattoo–and those who genuinely love real rock music for real reasons should be eternally glad of this.

The middle section of the Dropout Boogie show is a maestronic breakout session of The Black Keys’ very real remembrance of the forebears that they feel made them. To honor the binding agent of these creators and the music itself, six sonic salutes were sequentially played alongside Kenny Brown on guitar, the legendary blues player both Auerbach and Carney acknowledge as being among their most formative influences. Backdropped by rainbow rusted-railroad visuals, songs like the Junior Kimbrough classic “Stay All Night“, the two R.L. Burnside bangers “Coal Black Mattie” and “Going Down South”, “Poor Boy a Long Way From Home” by John Fahey, “Crawling Kingsnake” by John Lee Hooker, and Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel” take on new and ambroxan scents under Auerbach and Carney’s hero-love.

For these and innumerable other un-housebroken reasons, play hooky from your hobbling domestic duties, hitch a ride with a happy-go-lucky hooker, or just be a B-Team Bueller about it, but go and see those baddie Black Horses and Band of Keys (*audible tooth gleam*) while there is still some summer sunlight to swig. Whether you are cat-sitting for a barrister in the Peak District or studying salacious subreddits in Saginaw, the Dropout Boogie tour is a hell of a mashup well worth ditching any bit of class, ass, or thankless work for. This is a pair of bands with aesthetics that John Bender would wholeheartedly approve of, and you will find yourself loathe to leave their derelict detention hall when the bell rings.

The Black Keys Setlist

Patrick Carney

1. I Got Mine
2. Howlin’ For You
3. Fever
4. Tighten Up
5. Your Touch
6. It Ain’t Over
7. Gold On The Ceiling
8. Stay All Night (Junior Kimbrough cover)
9. Coal Black Mattie (R.L. Burnside cover)
10. Going Down South (R.L. Burnside cover)
11. Poor Boy Long Ways From Home (John Fahey cover)
12. Crawling Kingsnake (John Lee Hooker cover)
13. Have Love, Will Travel (Richard Berry cover)
14. L/Hi
15. Everlasting Light
16. Next Girl
17. Ten Cent Pistol
18. Your Team Is Looking Good
19. Wild Child
20. She’s Long Gone


21. Little Black Submarines
22. Lonely Boy

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