Somewhere off Dickerson Pike, in a secluded warehouse turned cathedral, The Black Keys have been rehearsing at a facility called Silver Point Studios in preparation for their upcoming North American tour. To find out if they're road-ready, the Keys brought in a few busloads of die-hard fan club members from around the country for a "super-secret" show. As the crowd poured in, complimentary posters in hand, they were greeted with the overwhelming scent of motor oil. The band was surprisingly prompt, looking well-rested and ready for the tour to come.
"You get to watch us practice," said frontman Dan Auerbach, who's lately been spending a great deal of his time helming new projects (the forthcoming JEFF the Brotherhood record, for instance) at his Nashville-based studio, Easy Eye Sound. Drummer Patrick Carney started the intro to "Howlin' for You." The small crowed of 200 cheered and the show was on.
To see The Black Keys at the peak of their popularity — "practice" or not — was a treat for fans indeed. But the sober patrons didn't express their appreciation quite as, say, fervently as you might expect. Maybe they were in awe. Or just really, really sober. There wasn't much hip shakin' or back breakin' going on, perhaps due to the "I'm so cool because I'm at The Black Keys' secret show" vibe going around. Nevertheless, all was good.
The guys brought out the big box of hits, a jumbo background screen with abstract visions of desert highways, a light show solid enough to make an epileptic seize and, to top it all off, free soft drinks! As they breezed their way through new material — like "Gold on the Ceiling" from December's El Camino — juxtaposed with gems like "Your Touch" and "Ten Cent Pistol," the core of the set was pure rock 'n' roll.
After closing with "Lonely Boy," they were quickly called back by the once-self-conscious fans for a two-song encore, which featured "Everlasting Light" and "She's Long Gone." The blinding house lights came on, and it was time to go. But they left us with a pretty resounding conclusion: The Black Keys are seriously good at practice.
The doctor is in
Saturday night's show at War Memorial Auditorium certainly wasn't The Spin's first rodeo when it comes to Dr. Dog. Nor was it our first time seeing local garage-punk guru Daniel Pujol and his PUJOL. It was, however, our first Dog-and-Poojie show, and while we've been to WMA a handful of times, we're not sure we'll ever be fully used to the big, lavish room and its marble courtyard. Also, openers Purling Hiss — whose name always makes us want to say "hurling piss" ... is it just us? — were something of a mystery.
We entered to the sounds of PUJOL's "Black Rabbit," best known as the Jack White-produced Blue Series single released via Third Man Records last year. The Spin swiftly noticed that former Heavy Cream bassist Daniel Severs is now rounding out the trio's lineup, and tunes like "Reverse Vampire" were easily the biggest and loudest we've ever heard them. Pujol plugged this week's Freakin' Weekend garage-rock mini-fest (see story on p. 37) and made some sort of Sailor Moon reference that we didn't quite get, and that was that. Brief as it may have been, we were happy to see some hometown homeboys on such a deluxe stage.
After dropping a whopping seven simoleons a pop on some brews, The Spin settled in for the only true mystery of the night, Purling Hiss. PH, as it turns out, is a grungy sort of indie-rock three-piece. Or at least, we think so, as the oft-boomy sound in War Memorial makes it difficult to discern much past a womping bass thump. Anyway, they played an hour's worth of barre chords and dirty riffs, with a fog machine that was just short of effective, considering how large the room is. We'd characterize Purling Hiss as sounding like Dinosaur Jr. but nowhere near as powerful or ... well, awesome. That isn't to say it wasn't all right in its dingy college-rock sort of way, and there was a capoed, nicely melodic tune toward the end of their set that almost caught our ear. But really, we found ourselves largely uninterested. When we commented to our companion, "Well, he solos well," she responded with, "Yeah, but that's like saying someone has pierced ears. That doesn't make them interesting." Well put, companion.
We drifted up to the half-full balcony as Dr. Dog's crew was setting up the Philly boys' gear, and we noticed — looking down at the just-slightly-more-undersold-than-we-anticipated crowd — that Dog fans wear an awful lot of knit caps. The band's stage setup was like that of a living room, with taxidermied lion and tiger heads, several desk lamps, a back wall that was plastered with show posters and even a door frame at stage-left, through which the band entered just before launching into "That Old Black Hole" from their brand-new Be the Void. The familiar locale of a living room made perfect sense for our old pals the Dog, and they made their way in reverse-chronological order and back again through tunes from Void, Shame, Shame and Fate as stained-glass panels blinked and, with perfect timing, we caught the scent of a freshly sparked doobie making its rounds.
As Dr. Dog bopped in and out of tunes like "The Breeze" and "The Ark," absolutely nailing their three- (and sometimes four-) part harmonies, pogoing in circles around the stage, we were reminded that no one does dirty, retro-minded rock 'n' roll more cleanly nowadays than these fellas. OK, so some Dr. Dog fans are a bit spazzy and earnest, like a roving festival crowd with beards, moderate BO and fake Ray-Bans. But sometimes, when the songs are as good as these — even though we would've like to hear more Easy Beat cuts — earnestness is A-OK.
During a quick cigarette break, PUJOL's Pujol tipped us off that local under-sung lo-fi legend R. Stevie Moore would join the Dog during their encore. We hustled back inside, and indeed, Moore was brought out to perform a rendition of his "Play Myself Some Music" while backed by Dr. Dog, and he did so with a cassette-shaped tote bag tucked under his elbow the whole time. It was awfully awesome and strange seeing the king of tape-hiss home recording — in his pajama pants and ponytailed beard — present one of his tunes with such a crack band, and he even stuck around to play tambourine during "Jackie Wants a Black Eye" and, our personal favorite, Dr. Dog's cover of the Architecture in Helsinki song "Heart It Races." Good on you, Dr. Dog, not only for bringing out The Spin's warm-and-fuzzy side, but also for recognizing a local hero. We love you even more, by God. So thanks for that.
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