30 January 2009: Cleveland Agora Theater and Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio
We go to far more shows at the House of Blues than we do the Cleveland Agora (in fact, the last time we saw a show at the Agora was to see the Black Keys in 2006), so I don’t know if it’s normal or not, but it was “hell frozen over” cold in there Friday night! Fortunately, we had the warm velvety fuzz of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney's music to heat the joint up.
Last time we saw the Black Keys here, we showed up way too late, parked blocks away, and sat up in the pot smoke-filled heights of the balcony. This time, after fish tacos and cerveza at Marcelita’s, we purposely got to the Agora early enough to get a great parking spot on the street behind the venue (the guy in the car parallel parked in front of us was playing the same Black Keys song as us when we got out of the car: “Girl Is on My Mind”) and killer seats for the general admission show.
The Agora is set up with a lower level dancefloor in front of the stage, then two or three tiers of tables and chairs rising up to the back of the hall. Up in the balcony is theater seating, steep to the ceiling. When we got into the theater, we grabbed a couple seats at the back of the first tier. Realizing that once the place really filled up we wouldn’t be able to see a thing, timing and luck helped us out when the people at the front corner of the first tier (at the railing) up and left. We snagged the seats and settled in for the evening.
I don’t think the heat works in the Agora, because we could see our breath the whole night. It was like an outdoor concert with a roof over our heads. We originally left our coats in the car because we thought it would heat up in there and we did want to lug our coats around. Well, as my wife pointed out, sometimes I guess it pays to look the older responsible adult part, because – despite the giant “No Re-Entry” sign above the door – the ticket scanner guy was totally cool to let me run out to the car to grab our coats and gloves after we realized it simply wasn’t going to warm up in there.
I ended up running into Hank LoConti, the Agora owner and founder, as I came back in. I don’t know how well he really remembers me, but I had interviewed him at length for my Pop Conference paper on Michael Stanley a few years ago. We also ran into David before the Black Keys took the stage later that night, too. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, though, because we'd discovered back in December that we had both given tickets for the show to our wives for Christmas.
The first opening act, the Other Girls, took the stage sometime after eight o'clock. The lead singer’s voice was shot, which was unfortunate because the songs had potential. About an hour later, though, Buffalo Killers ambled on-stage and tore up a fun set of Cincinnati southern rock. Hints of Allman Brothers, Hendrix, and the Black Crowes all blended for some great ‘70s-style jams. (Check out the four-song 2007 live concert download over at TapeCast.)
And an hour after that, the stagehands rolled out Carney’s drum riser and an inflatable homage to Akronite Peter Toth’s “Trail of the Whispering Giants” Indian sculptures and Carney straight-away began breaking drumsticks on the first song of the night. The guys ripped through some great tunes, like “Have Love Will Travel”, “10 A.M. Automatic”, “Strange Times”, “Your Touch”, “I Got Mine”, “Busted”, "Stack Shot Billy", and my (and my kiddo's) personal favorite Black Keys tune: "The Breaks".
The Black Keys get better every time we see them. I love their music and a playlist with nearly 50 of my favorite cuts from all six of their albums is always in rotation on my iPod. But as much as you think you can appreciate their recorded music, it is always striking to see them perform live, because it is continually stunning to realize the full wall of sound is coming from just a couple of guys on guitar and drums!
Along with the concert tickets, I also got my wife the new Black Keys live DVD, Live at the Crystal Ballroom, for Christmas. We haven’t watched it yet, but with the temperatures in the teens these days we just might turn off the furnace and the lights, open some windows and see if we can’t recreate the live Agora experience.