24 July 2010: Nautica Pavilion, Cleveland, Ohio
We’ve taken the kiddo to a few shows over the last couple of years. He has seen Jake Shimabukuro twice, and went with us to see Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Willie Nelson during their minor league baseball stadium tour last summer. But this past weekend we surprised him with tickets to see an artist he loves: The Black Keys.
Tracy and I have seen the Black Keys many times over the years. We love their music and have passed that appreciation on to the kiddo. But, as is my style, we didn’t tell him what was in store for him. We told him we were going out to dinner and left it at that. After dinner, we headed north to Cleveland and the Flats.
If you’ve never been to the Flats, don’t bother unless it’s for a concert at the Nautica Pavilion. While I am a huge cheerleader for Akron and Northeast Ohio in general, I’m also the first to admit Cleveland is filled with missed civic opportunities. And the Flats is one of them. Now a mess of “gentlemen clubs” and bad comedy shows and restaurants, it’s a sad little area that straddles the east and west banks of the Cuyahoga River.
Compounding the maze of dead-end roads and industrial wasteland is the fact that you need bridges to go to the West Bank (where Nautica is located) from downtown and the East Bank. When you shut down one or many of those bridges for construction, you end up with more confusion.
Regardless, we eventually made it over to the West Bank, parked next to the Powerhouse and walked to the venue. When we got inside, the kiddo was growing more and more anxious, wondering what his parents had dragged him to this time. When we revealed it was a Black Keys show, he was stunned and overjoyed.
We’ve had some oppressive heat in the region these last few weeks, and Saturday night was no exception. Temps in the low 90s and a nasty storm rolling through in the late evening spiked the humidity, but we came prepared with bottled water and were relieved to have a cool breeze every now and again.
The opening act was Canton native Jessica Lea Mayfield. She didn’t do much for Tracy or me, and the kiddo expressed his dislike for her by announcing to me he’d rather be at Carrabba’s so he wouldn't have to listen to this band, and he’d just come back when the Black Keys start. (Why Carrabba’s? I have no idea.) He did, however, very diplomatically note after sharing his point of view that other people might like her music, but it’s just something he has discovered he doesn’t enjoy.
The high-point for the opening act set was running into our friends David and Gina, who it seems we can’t attend a Black Keys show without doing. Always good to see them and have a chance to say “hello” and visit for a bit.
(photo courtesy of John Soeder)
Shortly after 9, the amphitheater lights went down and singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney sauntered on stage in front of a red, white, and black backdrop scrim of two hands clasped in the center of a whitewalled tire (think the "brothers" theme of the new album filtered through Soviet propaganda by way of Akron, Ohio). Although we have talked about the Black Keys many times and watched the Live at the Crystal Ballroom DVD together, the kiddo immediately turned to me and asked in genuine surprise, “Is there just the two of them in the band?!” He was beside himself at the big sound these two men were producing. Very cool parent-kid music revelation moment.
They immediately ripped into the staples: “Thickfreakness”, “Girl Is on My Mind”, and “10 A.M. Automatic”. The three of us, along with the rest of the sold out crowd, were loving every minute of it. And when they launched into “The Breaks”, the kiddo turned to me and screamed “Favorite song ever!” above the roar.
(photo courtesy of John Soeder)
It wasn’t until ten songs into the set that they finally broke out the new material and we saw something completely foreign at a Black Keys show: Auerbach and Carney were joined onstage by a pair of sidemen. Keyboardist Leon Michels and bassist Nick Movshon added some new dimension to the Brothers song selection. Everything you’d wanna hear off the new album was played. “Everlasting Light”, “Next Girl”, “Chop and Change” (an outtake from the Brothers sessions that ended up on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack), “Howlin’ for You”, “Tighten Up” (complete with a whistle-along opening!), and “Ten Cent Pistol”.
(I think the Black Keys should take their cue from Dylan, who puts his Oscar statuette on stage every night he performs, and bring out Frank, the dinosaur puppet from the “Tighten Up” and “Next Girl” videos, every night. Just set him on a stool and let him soak it in.)
When they left the stage after the main set, the kiddo turned to me and said, “We should go now to avoid the traffic.” I told him I was pretty sure they were gonna come back out and play some more and maybe we should stay. The kiddo was amazed and thrilled when they actually did come back for an encore. (Don’t remember when encores weren’t expected? Just attend a concert with an eight-year-old to rekindle that sense of wonder.) “Sinister Kid” was the highlight of the three-song second set, smoking hot, rocking the river, and shaking the cityscape beyond.
After the show wrapped up just before 11, we made our way back to the car and spent an hour getting from our parking spot to I-77. (A drive that should have taken no more than 15 or 20 minutes, tops! Did I mention things are a mess in the Flats?) But the people watching was amusing, and the three of us had fun rocking out to the Black Keys in the car.
It was strange to see the Black Keys joined by sidemen. I still think they are most powerful when it’s just the two of them. Drums, guitar, voice. But I’ll take them in any form they’re offering. The only thing missing was Frank.