Last Night in Cleveland: The Black Keys

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When’s a secret show not a secret show? When everyone and his grandma know about the damn thing. The Black Keys’ free “secret” show at the Beachland Tavern last night was ostensibly a thank-you gig from MySpace (which sponsored) to local fans who signed up as a Secret Shows friend. But on Monday, the Beachland announced that it would be handing out wristbands on a first-come-first-served basis six hours before the doors opened to the small-scale show in the Tavern, which holds 150 people. More than 500 fans showed up for the wristbands ... And it was a great opportunity to see the Akron duo -- which put out one of the year’s best records, Attack & Release, last month – in a venue suited to its low-fi garage-stomp. The Keys’ first-ever a show was at the Tavern, so last night’s set was also a sort of homecoming. They even handpicked their opening act, Akron’s Black Girls, who, despite their terrible name, were pretty good. (Check out our slide show.) The Keys’ 75-minute set mixed in a little from each of their five albums, with much focus on 2004’s Rubber Factory and the new Attack & Release. Singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach was a bit livelier than he was when I saw him at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin in March. Then again, he and drummer Patrick Carney – who ferociously pounded his kit for more than an hour without taking a break -- have had time to settle into the new songs, which seamlessly blend into the set like old faves. But that posed a small problem. After four records of primitive garage/blues/rock/whatever, Attack & Release’s sonic textures – provided by MVP producer Danger Mouse – finally open up the Keys at a point in their career when they most need a jolt. Yet onstage, without those keyboard hums, tape loops, and flute solos, the new songs sorta just sound like the old ones. And in the Tavern’s small, airless room, many of them ran into each other. Still, Attack & Release cuts like “Same Old Thing,” “Strange Times,” and “Oceans and Streams” power-slammed alongside set perennials “Girl Is on My Mind,” “Set You Free,” and “10 A.M. Automatic.” It wasn’t a surprising set, but it was a loose one. And the Keys, grateful to be playing a packed Tavern filled with hometown friends and fans, said thank-you with each and every three-minute, guitar-fueled slab of primal rock and roll they played. --Michael Gallucci

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