The Black Keys are having a pretty good 2008.
Earlier in the year, Akron's erstwhile blues-rock duo released its fifth full-length album, Attack & Release. The album was the band's first not recorded in a basement or abandoned rubber factory, and its first working with an outside producer — in this case, hot producer/Gnarls Barkley principal Danger Mouse.
It has not only been the band's fastest- and best-selling release, but it also expanded the basic two-man sound and has been arguably the duo's best critically received album as well. Tours have been selling out all over the world.
To capitalize on the good vibes, the band has released a live DVD, its second, simply called The Black Keys Live at the Crystal Ballroom, recorded before a sold-out crowd in Portland, Ore., in the spring. It was directed by Lance Bangs, who directed the band's Strange Times video (included as an extra) and has helmed live recordings of Arcade Fire, Sonic Youth and other hip and happening bands.
Originally, the concert was recorded as a test, with neither Bangs nor the band planning for a release. But both parties (and record company Nonesuch) found the show powerful enough to release. Bangs and crew shot the concert on film, which with the band's unusually dynamic lighting gives the show a grainy, old-school look and adds to the atmosphere of a sweaty night in a club. Bangs keeps the five-camera shoot simple and doesn't get too fancy with visual effects or angles, and there are just enough shots of the appreciative crowd to convey that a good night was had by all.
About half of the songs on Live at the Crystal Ballroom can also be found on the band's previous DVD, The Black Keys Live, but hard-core fans will appreciate having performances of nine songs from Attack & Release. The band is in top form, with Patrick Carney beating his drums into rhythmic submission, while Dan Auerbach's bluesy vocals and fuzzed-out guitar are clear and controlled.
Highlights include Auerbach's country-fried fingerpicking on Stackshot Billy, the slow tension-building of Girl Is on My Mind and the high-octane garage stomper Remember When (Side B). Also interesting are Auerbach's stabbing electric piano lines on a louder-than-the-record version of Ocean & Streams, and a taut crowd-pleasing take on the single Strange Times.
The DVD extras are fairly straightforward, with videos for Your Touch, Just Got to Be and Strange Times included. The videos themselves are pretty funny and/or inventive, with Auerbach and Carney engaging in an out-of-control game of laser tag for Strange Times, performing in an empty auditorium for Just Got to Be, and getting shot and discussing the afterlife over a cup of coffee for Your Touch.
Also included is some short, behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Your Touch, shot near an abandoned factory in Akron. A six-minute look at the recording of Attack & Release at Suma Studios in Painesville has vignettes featuring guitarist Marc Ribot, horn player and Patrick's uncle Ralph Carney, and engineer Paul Hamann. Danger Mouse is seen only in passing.
Live at the Crystal Ballroom finds the Black Keys at the (current) peak of their blues-rockin' and performance powers, and though it comes just three years after their previous DVD, it is a good snapshot of where the band is right now.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758.