The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys 3/12 NYC MSG Review, Playing MSG Again Tonight

By Michel Dussack

When The Black Keys announced they would be headlining arenas for their tour in support of ‘El Camino’, there was a significant amount of backlash from the music community who insisted the band “wasn’t ready” or “big enough” to be playing such large venues. And then something happened that silenced every critic. They sold out their Madison Square Garden show in 15 minutes. So they put another show on sale for Madison Square Garden, and that one sold out too. Indeed, this was a band that was big enough to be playing arenas and headlining festivals, despite their longtime fans wanting to still seem them in large clubs.

Supporting The Black Keys on this arena tour are Arctic Monkeys, an English rock band who’ve been around for nearly as long as their tour mates. However, the band sounds so great live, and their set time is so generous (they played for an hour at Madison Square Garden) that it almost gives off the vibe of a coheadlining tour rather than Arctic Monkeys supporting The Black Keys. Indeed, rather than the empty arena you typically see during an opening band, the venue was filled about 75% of the way by the time Arctic Monkeys went on, and packed by the time they ended their set. The band crammed 16 songs into their energetic set and they definitely had some big fans in the audience, especially in the front of the general admission area, as there was a group of fans bouncing up and down during their entire set. That’s not to say everyone was moving around, and most of the arena were motionless during their set (though to be fair, The Black Keys had hardly any people moving either). Frontman Alex Turner wasn’t quite enthralled with the reaction they got when they asked the crowd to clap their hands towards the end of the set and remarked “C’mon Madison Square Garden! Clap your hands! Don’t be a dick about it!” The band touched upon all four of their studio albums and even included the new single ‘R U Mine?’ to close out the set on a high note.

As I said before, for whatever reason (maybe it’s all the new fans) the crowd for this show was insanely tame though when The Black Keys took to the stage with the one-two punch of ‘Howlin’ for You’ and ‘Next Girl’, there wasn’t a seated person in all of the arena, at least that I could see. Dan Auerbach (vocals and guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) were augmented by two touring members for most of the performance, and while they did an excellent job of more accurately recreating the newer, more technically advanced material, I’d be lying if I said the highlight of the set was the portion where they left the duo to themselves. The whole appeal of The Black Keys has always been listening to two people create as much noise as they can, and the addition of bass and keyboards definitely took away from Carney’s expert drumming.

That said, maybe I’m just one of those bitter old fans that would prefer to see the band in a club again. Maybe I am holding on too much to the last time I saw the band, right after the release of ‘Brothers’ when they played to 200 people tops for a Microsoft phone event in an antique car dealership. This four piece is very much The Black Keys now, as it doesn’t appear that Carney and Auerbach would abandon the very thing that’s made them so successful. They didn’t, however, forget about the people that have been fans longer than the last couple of records and were sure to include cuts from every studio album, despite how focused they were on playing newer material.

These aforementioned older tracks, including ‘Strange Times’, ‘I’ll Be Your Man’ and ‘Thickfreakness’ were some of the standouts of the night. Towards the end of their set, during ‘Ten Cent Pistol’, the band took an extended break in the middle of the song waiting for an applause up to their standards before continuing. Auerbach kept the banter short, though he did remark “It’s pretty wild that we’re playing here’ before launching into two of the bands biggest songs, ‘Tighten Up’ and the gigantic single ‘Lonely Boy’ to close out their main set. When the band returned for their obligatory encore, two massive disco balls were brought out for ‘Everlasting Light’ and ‘She’s Long Gone’ followed. To the band, there was really only one way this night could be ended – with a tongue in cheek performance of ‘I Got Mine’ featuring a giant “The Black Keys’ sign coming down from the ceiling. Indeed, one of the hardest working bands in rock and roll has finally got the fame that they deserve.

Arctic Monkeys’ setlist:
1. Brianstorm
2. This House Is a Circus
3. Still Take You Home
4. Library Pictures
5. Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
6. The View from the Afternoon
7. I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
8. Pretty Visitors
9. Teddy Picker
10. Crying Lightning
11. She’s Thunderstorms
12. Fluorescent Adolescent
13. If You Were There, Beware
14. Evil Twin
15. Brick by Brick
16. R U Mine?

The Black Keys’ setlist
1. Howlin’ for You
2. Next Girl
3. Run Right Back
4. Same Old Thing
5. Dead and Gone
6. Gold on the Ceiling
7. Thickfreakness
8. Girl Is On My Mind
9. I’ll Be Your Man
10. Your Touch
11. Little Black Submarines
12. Money Maker
13. Strange Times
14. Chop and Change
15. Nova Baby
16. Ten Cent Pistol
17. Tighten Up
18. Lonely Boy
19. Everlasting Light
20. She’s Long Gone
21. I Got Mine

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