Oh, is this one good. Let me state it outright: if you’ve ever had anything like a casual enjoyment or curiosity about the Black Keys – let alone a full on, one-of-the-best-bands-of-the-last-decade jones for ‘em – Black Keys Live at the Crystal Ballroom, recorded at an April Keys show, is a definite pickup.
But it’s not quite “fun” – it’s great, but not Black Keys great. And the boys have earned the right to be evaluated on a relative scale. Maybe director Lance Bangs’ crispy rendered, no-bullshit attack could have used, for once, a little bit more director involvement – a little something (though something that is not the same as “a little more bullshit”). I found myself wanting to step in to the frame as a viewer and get to something I couldn’t reach; I never moved beyond the feeling that I was merely watching a framed concert of a band I enjoy. I never felt sucked in.
READ ON for the rest of Chad’s review of Black Keys’ DVD…
Stay with me: Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney don’t absorb you particularly well in this medium – at least in the way their alternately smoldering, alternately bash-it-out attack can, and does, in the live setting. In concert, the two have a tendency to hurtle through songs without much in the way of crowd acknowledgment or surprises – which is fine, considering how their exuberant, balls-out, shaggy, howling performance definitely trumps any part of the workmanlike way they deliver songs without regard for stage craft or changing things up.
But a basic representation of the Black Keys in action isn’t alone going to sell this thing as a definitive Black Keys concert document, and the extras – three music videos, some footage from the Attack and Release sessions in Cleveland – aren’t enough to slake a thirst for even more. There’s no faulting Bangs for assuming the Keys’ mojo was enough to carry the whole thing; with Auerbach and Carney having amassed one of the most formidable catalogs of the past decade’s worth of rock and consistently reinforced their status as a marquee live act, it should have been a slam dunk.
Why not? A deference to Attack and Release material, maybe, with a few perfunctory gems from the older albums? It’s not a style thing. Despite its detractors – afraid of a little game-changing, but fundamentals-preserving production values, are ye? – Attack and Release is to these ears one of the duo’s most accomplished albums. Sure, there’s more of a rush watching Auerbach set fire to Thickfreakness or Stack Shot Billy or Carney punish that kit than much of the new stuff. But that’s familiarity, not quality. The concert DVD just doesn’t work on an A-level for some bands, but we’d like to thank Carney, Auerbach, Lance and all involved for making a hot B-plus out of it.