Given the expansive economies of the '90s, it was no wonder that stripped-down, gutbucket guitar-and-drum duos like Flat Duo Jets and Doo Rag couldn't get arrested, their minimalist roots-rock exiled to the sub basements of the indie concert circuit and the privileged ghetto of college radio.
But in this age of austerity, when everyone is doing more with less, it is stripped-down, gutbucket guitar-and-drum duos like The White Stripes and, more recently, The Black Keys, that have made some of the most seminal and commercially-viable music.
Upon the release of 2010's Brothers, The Black Keys connected with a mass audience and eventually graduated from econo to arenas. They are a big band in these small times, and Saturday night they delivered a smoking-gun performance — which is to say they killed — at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center.
The Black Keys are singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. At the Wells Fargo Center, Auerbach was all stubble, leather and sweaty bangs, bouncing on the balls of his feet like a prize fighter circling the ring. Carney was octopus-armed and absent his trademark Buddy Holly Ray Bans, hunched over his drum kit like he was driving an Ed "Big Daddy" Roth hot rod.
For the first and final third of their blistering performance, the Keys were joined by a pair of utility players — Gus Seyffert and John Wood — trading off the bass, slide guitar and vintage keyboards that flesh out the Grammy-winning Brothers, and the new, already-gone-gold El Camino.
This expanded version of the Keys opened with the lupine hump and grind of "Howlin' For You" and the swampy, primordial ooze of "Next Girl." They closed out the night with the hits — the whistling Northern soul of "Tighten Up" and the souped-up rockabilly "Lonely Boy" — and encored with a majestic "Everlasting Light" performed beneath a giant mirror ball that turned the Wells Fargo Center, for a few minutes anyway, into the world's largest snow globe.
During the middle of the concert, they kicked it old-school, like they did in their parents' basement back in Akron, Ohio, at the turn of the century. Just Auerbach's blazing guitar and blacksnake moan and Carney swinging heavy wood, bashing out a fierce trifecta of righteous, deep-cut, back catalog, BK blooze: "Thickfreakness" followed by "The Moan" and then "Girl Is On My Mind."
It was at this point that a casual observer could look around and marvel at the fact that, with nothing more than the bang and strum of a drum and a guitar, The Black Keys could lure in 14,864 souls Pied Piperlike into this vast arena and hold their rapturous attention for nearly two hours.