Tag Archives: Joe Louis Arena

Howlin’ for You: The Black Keys at the Joe Louis Arena

20 Sep

Black Keys screen - Auerbach

Dan Auerbach

Black Keys screen - Carney

Patrick Carney

Concertpalooza came to a close on September 12 in a familiar place: the Joe Louis Arena, experiencing the Black Keys with my loved ones as concert buddies (this time, my partner along with our younger daughter). It was the perfect show to cap off an exhilarating summer of live music!

Props to the headliner for choosing stellar talent as opening acts. In 2011 they had the Arctic Monkeys on board. Our leg of the tour this time featured Cage the Elephant while other lucky people get to see Jake Bugg or St. Vincent; any of those bands could hold their own topping the bill. Cage the Elephant’s music is bouncy and fun, personified by their inexhaustible lead singer Matt Shultz. You may know their single from 2009, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Check them out!

“Fun” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the Black Keys, though. Their music is fuzzed out, feedback-fueled blues rock … and their personal lives are even more distorted. Most of what I’ve read about them – the horrifying account of guitarist Dan Auerbach’s recent divorce; the 5000-word piece in Salon that drummer Patrick Carney’s wife wrote about their divorce; the Twitterstorm Carney kicked up over Justin Bieber; and the TMZ-fed feud Jack White forced onto Auerbach when he questioned Dan’s worthiness as a blues musician (sample hissy fit: Jack told his ex-wife to pull their kids out of the Nashville elementary school where Dan’s daughter attends) – tells me these guys are drama magnets. Lighthearted they ain’t.

Therefore, it was surprising and gratifying that they seemed to have a great time performing at the Joe. Auerbach did a lot of smiling between numbers, thanking the audience and raving about Detroit fans. (Who knows what Carney was feeling since he rarely smiles and doesn’t talk during concerts; he’s Teller to Auerbach’s Penn.) Auerbach’s bottom-heavy guitar style, snaky licks and atmospheric songwriting keep the songs tight and catchy; plus, the guy’s got a strong, distinctive voice. Carney is the first to agree with my partner that he “sucks at drums,” and he swerved off tempo more than once during the evening. When he was on, though, he brought the heavy ammunition.

If you want to bone up on less gossipy, more nuts-and-bolts trivia about the band, watch this:

Since I saw them in 2011, the Black Keys have cemented their status as a straight up, non-pop, 21st-century rock-and-roll band. For the two dudes from Akron, there wasn’t another choice. As Carney said in Rolling Stone,

When we were in ninth grade, we were well aware that if we wanted to go to a good school, it wasn’t a possibility – that we didn’t have the money. So it’s like, what do you have from there? You have rock & roll!

Detroit needs rock and roll. The city is fighting for an identity we can be proud of, something beyond blight and bankruptcy. Bands that shout “Detroit Rock City!” earn a roar of appreciation. Auerbach and Carney went a step further, honoring a local hero by playing for their first time ever a cover of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Not for the first time that evening, half the audience (the male half anyway) broke out their air guitars, danced without rhythm and high fived each other, proud of themselves and damned glad to be there no matter what the troubles were outside the arena.

The Black Keys understand how a guitar and a drum kit can blast away your problems, and for that we’re all grateful.

See you on the flipside … and mark your calendars: I’ll be one of the featured local writers at the Books & Authors event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 26, promoting Love and Other B-Sides to my closest friends and perfect strangers from 11 AM – 5 PM. Come see!

So ya thought ya might like to go to the show?

24 Jun

It’s taken me more than two weeks to recover from watching Roger Waters’ The Wall at the Joe Louis Arena, and not just because I finally shook off the contact high from the pot-laced stogie the guy sitting in front of us was passing around to his buddies throughout Act II.

The show was thrilling, eye-popping, visceral and awe-inspiring. The animation, both from the 1982 film version and the new stuff, was sharp and ominous. At 68, Roger Waters is in fine voice and in full command of the piece. And even though it took two men (Dave Kilminster on lead guitar and Robbie Wyckoff on vocals) to fill in for David Gilmour, the overall sound was as dense and dramatic as the original recording.

When the show came to the Palace of Auburn Hills last fall, by the time I looked into getting tickets they were well above our price point. “The only way we’ll be able to afford it is if I sell a kidney,” my teenaged daughter lamented, adding, “and it would have to be a kidney full of heroin.” Given that Mr. Waters made a gazillion dollars on the 2011 leg of the tour – fans having ponied up numerous kidneys full of heroin, no doubt – he saw fit to cross the US again this year. This time, Santa Claus got us tickets as our big present last December.

Sting in 1979 … attractive even when you can’t see his biceps

Opera, rock or otherwise, usually bugs me. No matter how beautifully performed or lavishly staged, the story rarely makes any logical sense and so the emotional wallop evades me. As much as I love to listen to Tommy, thematically it’s a mess. Its symbolism is either trite or opaque: what exactly was pinball supposed to mean anyway? Quadrophenia works a lot better for me because it wasn’t so symbolic and I could follow the basic thread of the story, with a little help from Wikipedia. It’s not as audacious as Tommy, though, so I’m not sure it would benefit from being staged. (Never saw the 1979 movie version, even though it was Sting’s film debut.)

The Wall, however, has never failed to fascinate and unnerve me in all formats. When I bought it in 1979, I’d shoo my parents out of the living room where our stereo system was so I could memorize the double LP with the door closed and the lights on. When I saw the film in college, I was so freaked out by it I spontaneously shrieked on the way home to my dorm. Even the Scissor Sisters’ doomsday disco cover of “Comfortably Numb” is unsettling.

Roger Waters accompanies a 1981 film of himself singing “Mother” as it’s shown on The Wall behind him

It started as Waters’ statement about alienation in the face of stardom. Now it’s morphed into alienation in the face of pretty much every aspect of modern life: totalitarianism, warfare, politics, marriage, education, commercialism, even helicopter parenting.

Thirty-three years after it was released, the music of The Wall is still scary, still alluring and still incredibly beautiful. It encompasses why rock music was invented: to rail against what is and demand that there be something better.

Now, please enjoy a snippet of the 1990 concert version of The Wall, staged in the former no-mans land where the Berlin Wall had stood eight months earlier. Waters and his Pink Floyd bandmates were on the outs, so he was the only one of the four to appear. He more than made up for it by casting an eclectic and inspired cast of musicians, including Sinead O’Connor and three-fifths of The Band, who performed “Mother”:

See you on the flip side …

What is Hipster?

12 Mar

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Two. One to change it in an ironic fashion and one to get it.

Last weekend at the Black Keys concert at the Joe Louis Arena, a mother and teenage daughter edged into their seats next to me in between acts. The mom was slim and freshly made up, the cowl neck of her slouchy metallic thread sweater hanging just so across her clavicles.

After extolling the virtues of the new women’s bathroom at the Joe and grousing that her daughter wasn’t going to get her some popcorn, she cast her eyes over the 20,000 people surrounding us and declared, “Ooh, look at all the hipsters.”

I bit my tongue. I mean, come on, it was a Black Keys concert. Who’d you expect would be there? It was as if she was standing outside the Roman Coliseum announcing, “Ooh, look at all the Italians.”

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Some obscure number you’ve never heard of.

Harvard researchers have been getting a lot of credit for determining what qualifies one to be considered a hipster. (This is automatically suspect for, as my daughter will assure you after living with me for sixteen years, the last people qualified to define hipness is a bunch of Harvard grads.) The researchers followed 200 college students’ Facebook profiles over four years to track how they acquired or shared musical tastes.

Turns out that while college students become friends due to common interests in music, they don’t influence their friends’ future tastes all that much. As a kid starts to appreciate an indie band, he attempts to hoard the awesomeness of the discovery for himself. If his friends start liking the band, too, the spell is broken. The hipster moves on, leaving his friends behind to extoll the virtues of yesterday’s news.

In other words, Harvard spent years and countless thousands of dollars to prove what teenagers have known for years: you’re only as cool as the friends you’re cooler than.

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Who cares? It’ll just be another tired rehash of the way Lou Reed changes light bulbs.

Dan Auerbach (left) and Patrick Carney (right) and Patrick Carney's hipster glasses (upper right)

But what happens when an indie band—let’s say one from Akron featuring a red-headed, sometimes bearded guitarist and a lanky drummer with Buddy Holly glasses—starts playing stadiums?  How could so many hipsters deign to show up, much less buy t-shirts, broadcasting their love of a band that is now appealing to the masses?

I can only hope it’s because they can put their Starbucks and flannel aside and be happy (without quotation marks) to enjoy an evening with two talented musicians who have gotten wildly popular because of the quality of their music.

I would have shared this revelation with the mom next to me, but she cut out before the encore.


Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You mean you don’t know?

See you on the flip side …

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