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Issue: January 2009

The Black Keys at City Block

It's a Tuesday night and the Louisville club City Block is nearing maximum capacity. The city's hipsters are lining the sidewalk and filing in to catch a glimpse of the untamed blues-rock revolt better known as the Black Keys.

Beyond the crowd, behind the black curtains and past the security guard chatting on his cell, a backstage hallway leads to a large bar area not in service for the night. A few people from the Keys' crew stroll in and out frantically, but singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney sit uninterrupted and engaged in conversation in the corner of the empty bar.

Meanwhile, roaring applause fills City Block as Carney's drum set is pulled to the front edge of the stage. A small stuffed tiger lies under the kick drum, seemingly growling toward the audience. Silver streamers line the back of the stage and a few small, vintage amps sit surrounded by microphones and larger speakers.

A young girl throws a letter on stage addressed to "Dan," which reads, "Sorry for almost catching you on fire."

Within minutes, the lights break and the Black Keys take stage. Carney hops onto his throne, while Auerbach flips the switch on his amp.

"Hello, Hello," Auerbach shouts as he approaches the mic. He's strapped to an old school, cream-colored Rickenbacker and wears a flannel cowboy's shirt with boots to match.

A crash of symbols and thundering kick team with a few fuzzed guitar notes, forcing the crowd to near silence. Angels haven't taken the stage, but from the facial expressions of all in attendance, it seems as if Louisville has been saved - at least for the evening.

Sitting on the far corners of the stage, the security team, trained not to take their eyes off the audience, can't help but turn their heads to see what the hell is making the noise.

Auerbach shakes his head erratically, inching his beard-covered face closer to the microphone.

"Here I am, darling, and I'll care for you," Auerbach sings the lyrics of "Thickfreakness" with beauty and swerving inflection, sounding just as coarse as the 2003 album.

Carney raises his sticks to the air and comes down on his drums in a symbol-cracking, head-busting fashion. The stomach-curdling thump of the kick hiccups the hundreds of voices singing along. Carney, playing in cowboy boots, holds a concentrated facial expression that reads contently disturbed.

The Keys stop between songs, leaving just enough time to breathe, before rolling into "Girl Is On My Mind." Blinding lights roll around the room, the strobes stutter from side to side and Auerbach jumps up and down, slamming his foot to the stage and slinging sweat into the outstretched hands. He periodically looks to his side to match song transitions with Carney.

The beauty of The Black Keys is the raw energy and sincerity displayed in every song. The naked emotion rivals that of Nirvana's early days, as the songs are purposely imperfect, leaving room for Auerbach to explore. The Black Keys shove energy not just sonically, but physically toward the audience.

"You Southerners like to drink your bourbon," Auerbach says inciting a roar from the prideful audience. "This song is called "The Breaks."

The Black Keys pulled out all the stops, playing tracks from each of their five albums, including the title track of 2008's, "Strange Desire."

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