“Now this motherfucker can play guitar!” a wobbly, dancing Millennial shouted deep into the Black Keys‘ Friday night show in Park City, drunk off their grimy rock and plenty of beer. It turns out the man was a perfect summation of a crowd full of too-cool Sundance attendees letting their hair down, moving and drinking like it was a basement party, and the Keys had the right sound to let loose.
Part of the evening’s charm came from the location: Park City’s newest music mecca, the Marquis. A 1,200-person venue boasting state-of-the-art audio design and an intimate stage for large acts, the freshly rehabbed space had wonderful acoustics in a cozy setting. Despite an official opening over New Year’s Eve weekend, the Keys’ set felt like a bluesy baptism for the renovated venue.
In one of their first shows since announcing their upcoming twelfth album, “Ohio Players,” the Akron duo seemed energized by the prospect of an upcoming record — and, likely, a tour to go along with it. Frontman Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney’s silent communication seemed as sharp as ever, as their performances of the songs felt both warmer and dirtier in concert. Focused on vibes instead of exactly recreating their records, the pair breathed fresh life into their biggest hits: “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Howlin’ for You,” “Tighten Up” and encore closer “Lonely Boy,” all of which turned into singalongs.
Yet things got even more electric whenever Auerbach promised to take the crowd “down to the basement,” pulling out their deeper cuts with heavier licks. Opening with the loud and crashing “I Got Mine,” the band reveled in some of their primal songs, which allowed them to open up and experiment with their musicianship live.
Given how the Black Keys’ music harkens back to a simpler time of rock ‘and’n’ roll, Auerbach and Carney are formidable musicians, creating a gorgeous racket that, at its best, always seems on the verge of chaos. The tall Carney is all limbs behind a minimal kit, playing exactly what the song needs, thumping away with a sense of dynamics that many drummers bash through without a care. Auerbach is bathed in rawk energy, his sunglasses hiding the soul in his honeyed vocals, with guitar solos perfectly fitting the tunes.
Their boundless enthusiasm kept deeper cuts like “Wild Child,” “Fever” and new single “Beautiful People (Stay High)” hurtling along. The duo is currently backed by a solid quartet of musicians that add depth to each song, yet it would be thrilling to have a segment of each show with just Auerbach and Carney together, harking back to their explosive early performances.
“Rock ‘and’n’ roll will never die,” yelled an optimistic fan after the house lights went on at the end of the night. It was reckless abandon one might not expect from an evening out at a film festival. Although Sundance during the day was anchored by a dialogue-free art-house film about a group of Bigfoots vomiting and farting, the evening was dedicated to the decidedly simpler pleasures of big amps and booming drums. After all, sometimes you just want to listen to a motherfucker who can play guitar.
The Black Keys will play another set at the Marquis on Sunday night. “Ohio Players” will be released on April 5.