While the Black Keys clearly emerged from the same gene pool as the White Stripes — both are guitar/drum duos with a propensity for minimal blues rock — there’s a lot more gray area separating the two combos than one might think at first glance.
At this two-night Gotham stand, the Akron, Ohio-bred Keys showcased the amalgamation of brawn and brains that earned them a mention on this year’s Short List awards. Reflecting the tenor of their critically acclaimed Fat Possum album “Thickfreakness,” however, they made it a point of never flaunting either element, preferring instead to use the blend as the straw that might stir the drink at an old-fashioned house party.
Singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, whose goofy dishevelment is patently not stylist-enhanced, isn’t a six-string virtuoso, but he does have boogie riffing — with a psychedelic chaser — down pat. Jut-jawed garage originals like “Hard Row” compared favorably with the covers — such as Richard Berry’s often-duplicated “Have Love Will Travel” — that the duo used to flesh out their hourlong set.
Auerbach was more compelling, though, when he allowed himself to succumb to his own grooves and loosen his grip on song structure, becoming part of the bacchanalia rather than providing the soundtrack for its unfolding. By doing so on more extended versions of “Thickfreakness” and Junior Kimbrough’s “Everywhere I Go,” he used his slide as a tool to tap into the neo-religious vein that runs through classic juke joint blues.
Loosened reins also benefited drummer Patrick Carney, whose deceptively stripped down kit doesn’t hint at the action he’s capable of creating when eschewing the standard 4/4 beat.
Unlike Jack and Meg White, the Black Keys don’t seem to carry much artistic baggage — nor all that much overweening ambition. And while that may get them pigeonholed as good-time Charlies, they play that role with such gusto, it’s hard to envision them caring all that much about the label.