Photography by Mina Rose Morales
By Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
Artist: The Black Keys
Venue: Xfinity Center, Mansfield
When: Friday, July 29th
THE LONG-AWAITED DROPOUT BOOGIE TOUR
I’ve been a fan of The Black Keys since 2011 when I first heard “Lonely Boy” played on the radio at the age of nine. The track had taken off big, coming as the lead single of their sophomore album El Camino.
In the winter of 2020 — a similarly distant year as 2011, considering it was during “pre-covid” times — I heard that the Black Keys were slated to perform at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield that coming summer. I was eager to attend. I pictured myself getting lawn tickets, sitting out in the sun, and enjoying some of my favorite tracks from the four albums they had out at the time. Ultimately, it was one of the shows I was most disappointed to see get canceled when the pandemic halted touring.
I’m sure that was the case for many of the attendees at Friday night’s show at the Xfinity Center. From the way they bore old band merch to the way they belted the lyrics of deep cuts like “Busted” (one of the very first songs released by the duo), it was clear that much of the audience had been fans for more than just a few months.
Two whole summers after the canceled Xfinity date, fans were elated to see The Black Keys make it to Mansfield. This time, the Akron, Ohio-formed duo came with a couple more albums under their belt (2021’s Delta Kream and 2022’s Dropout Boogie). And if the name of the tour — the Dropout Boogie Tour — indicated anything, it was that fans were more than ready to boogie alongside the band.
THE DISTINCT ENERGIES DELIVERED BY THE NIGHT’S THREE ACTS
Before the Black Keys took the stage, there came performances from two other bands: Ceramic Animal and Band of Horses.
Rather than set a tone similar to what the Black Keys would deliver later on, each of the night’s acts brought distinct energies to their sets. While I rarely take much note of performers’ outfits, it was hard not to — the artists’ looks encapsulated the disparities of their performance styles rather perfectly.
CERAMIC ANIMAL TAKE THE STAGE FIRST
First came Ceramic Animal, a five-piece band of mostly brothers that formed out of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Lead singer Warren Regan came out with a cowboy hat in hand, raising it seemingly in awe and appreciation of the crowd. He was fitted in black pants and a black shirt with a touch of fringe, as was the keyboardist. The drummer wore a black zip-up embellished with glittery, silver stars. And the guitarist, with perhaps the most striking fashion piece of all, played in a tight black long-sleeve shirt with long white fringe lining each arm.
If you can’t tell from the description of their outfits, Ceramic Animals brought a party to the stage. “Let’s have some fun here,” Warren said between songs. And fun was had. During a lively track, a team of people from backstage swarmed around the band members to send off beach balls that bounced around the crowd (and in one instance, off of my forehead).
As for their music, Ceramic Animals started their rock and blues-infused set off strong. Their first song ended with over two minutes of pure instrumentation. “Mistakes,” an early one from their discography, felt reminiscent of the Strokes. And later, “All My Loving,” which they went out on, was evocative of The Black Keys’ Mississippi Blues style on Delta Kream. Ceramic Animal’s sound reached far in the outdoor amphitheater, and the clear joy they were having being up on stage spread infectiously as well.
BAND OF HORSES BRING SOME OF THE NIGHT’S SWEETEST MOMENTS
Band of Horses, a Seattle, Washington-formed group led by Ben Bridwell, came off as rather humble during their performance. They were dressed in a way that made me think that if I saw them walk past me on the street, I wouldn’t think anything of it. And “Thank y’all so much” was a frequent expression of gratitude heard between songs from Bridwell.
Their set saw some of the night’s sweetest moments, especially with their more delicate song “No One’s Gonna Love You,” which came fourth, after a few rather high-strung rock-ish songs. As Bridwell sang the endearing lyrics, I saw a couple holding onto each other, smiling between their mouthed-along words. “Crutch” from their latest album Things Are Great also served as a sweeter song, the lyrics expressing feelings of gushing over someone.
Just as Ceramic Animals had a song reminiscent of The Black Keys’ sound, some stylistic similarities helped me realize what could link Band of Horses and The Black Keys with similar appeal. Both bands have several songs that pair delicate, acoustic moments with a stark rock contrast within the same song. Most times, each band would mark these transitions by winding down and taking a long, dramatic pause before coming back with full vigor.
For the Black Keys, “Little Black Submarines” is the perfect example of this. And for Band of Horses, “Ghost” and “Funeral” made for the most memorable cases. These fake-out endings kept the crowd on their toes and had them rocking out hard when a song’s anticipated energy was cranked up.
THE BLACK KEYS CARRY A SENSE OF COOL
Where Ceramic Animals brought a party-like feel and Band of Horses brought sweetness, the Black Keys brought cool. The duo of Dan Auerbach (lead vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) presented themselves in a way that had a casual swagger. Auerbach donned sunglasses for the show, despite the sun having gone down long before their set. And before they even came out, this same tone was established— albeit in a more overt, comedic way.
On Xfinity’s two large screens on either side of the stage, a video played of an old man expressing his concerns about where the rest of the night would lead. He encouraged concertgoers to leave, especially if they brought kids, so as to not expose them to the “demonic” music of the Black Keys. He poked at the idea of them encouraging kids to leave school with the name “dropout boogie.” But ultimately, when he announced they were walking on stage and asked the crowd to protest, the audience’s cheers drowned out his comedic anger.
A WELL-ROUNDED SAMPLING OF THE BLACK KEYS’ DISCOGRAPHY
Across the night, The Black Keys delivered a well-rounded sampling of their discography, traveling as early as “Busted” from their earliest EP to their latest, Dropout Boogie. The new record surprisingly only got three tracks played — “Wild Child,” “It Ain’t Over” and “Your Team Is Good,” — leaving room for variety.
A SLICE OF MISSISSIPPI BROUGHT TO MANSFIELD
For five songs, a little over a third of the way through their set, The Black Keys were joined by Kenny Brown and Eric Deaton. The two musicians are trained in the traditional Mississippi Blues style and played a significant role in the development and recording of Delta Kream.
Most of the visuals for the show were glitchy, artistic and electronic, but for some of the tracks — all blues covers — that were played in this stretch, an attempt was made to bring a warmer glow to the stage. And even though the reality was that I was standing in an amphitheater of thousands, closing my eyes for a minute, it almost felt like I could be listening to The Black Keys singing in a bar room down in Tennessee.
Not many in the audience knew the lyrics to these tracks, but scanning the crowd, it was clear the songs were still appreciated. I saw looks of concentration; heads bobbing forward, towards the sound, into the groove. “Crawlin’ Kingsnake,” the John Lee Hooker cover that gave the first taste of Delta Kream in early 2021, closed out this segment of the show.
THE REST OF THE SET
What filled in the rest of the set was a scattering of The Black Keys at their finest. More classically rock tracks like “Howlin’ For You” to “Gold On The Ceiling” to “Lo/Hi” and “Next Girl,” saw Auerbach play guitar riffs so iconic that they were almost instantly recognizable, and saw Carney playing the drums with passion and ferocity.
With their more subdued rock sound, “Ten Cent Pistol” and “Everlasting Night” were moments that most radiated the sense of cool The Black Keys brought with their presence.
And twenty songs behind them, the band came back to play two more — “Little Black Submarines” and “Lonely Boy” — as an encore. There had been roughly four minutes of thunderous applause, cheers, and chair-tapping to get them to return. The incredibly special moments brought by each (both standouts from El Camino that helped their career take off) made the encore more than worth the wait.