Jay Reatard + The Black Keys, Royal Oak Theatre, Royal Oak MI

Post Author: Bianca Garza

Besides being a review of Jay Retard, this review is an exercise to see how many different ways I can use words that indicate swift movement and attack. Let’s Go!

First I would like to pull my own card and say that I learned something of value at this show. To my surprise my photographer informed me that “WSG” is not a band name. It means “with special guest,” in case this paragraph is confusing you as well. So when you see that on the billboard outside the venue, do not make the mistake I did by commenting on the potential of three bands instead of two.

Jay Reatard tore through his set as though he had somewhere to be in 30 minutes. Hair in his face, his mouth completely hidden by a curly mop, each song was inaudibly introduced, followed by Jay and his cronies shredding for two minutes. Breaks from the onslaught were limited, unless Jay needed a quick swig of water. Otherwise, he burned through most of Blood Visions with reckless abandon.

I lost count of how many songs he managed to play in 30 minutes, but I feel as though he is attempting to set a record. “Death is Forming,” “My Shadow” and “We Who Wait” were exceptionally enjoyable. The first two because of Jay’s ability to tongue lash those rabid choruses live and the latter because it was a brief subduing of the pace; a stomp instead of a frenzy. I think it took the crowd half the set to realize that this is how he is going to continue to play and by the time he gave an abrupt “thank you” Royal Oak had barely caught on to Jay Reatard’s frenetic style.

I remember seeing the Black Keys a few years ago in Columbus, OH on the heels of Rubber Factory. It was a disappointing concert, due to the lack of young people aware of the band. It was my friends and a couple hundred burn out garage heads, who broke out the leather jackets and KISS tour shirt they bought back in the 80s – or something to that effect. It was a boring show because no one wanted to give a shit about the Keys.

Now five albums deep the Black Keys are a national success, proven by the Royal Oak selling out. The duo has not changed its live formula since I last saw them on tour. Dan Auerbach’s guitar work has significantly improved as gems like “Stack Shot Billy” and “10 A.M. Automatic” have aged well. Like any band that grows comfortable with its catalogue, Auerbach dragged out his blues jams with menacing solos, but kept it brief, avoiding the dreaded jam session.

See that rubber monstrosity behind the Black Keys? That is a gigantic inflatable tire, but the “Good Year” logo has been altered to read “heavy soul Black (winged foot) Keys Akron, OH.” The presence of such a ridiculous stage prop got me thinking about the evolution of the Black Keys sound. I fear the band may have to abandon its blues label and accept its transition into high energy arena rock. There were no import sipping, leather adorned blues boys or dingy scruffy garage kids at this show. It was a sold out sea of Bud Light tall boys and backwards college ball caps. Perhaps I am being too critical of audience, so I will stick to artistic critique and state that the Black Keys sound less like Muddy Waters and more like Ted Nugent these days.

I hate to call you out Black Keys, but “heavy soul” is escaping your grasp. Hold tight to your Junior Kimbrough records and occasionally listen to Thickfreakness to remind yourself how you assured us all that a couple of white kids from Akron, OH knew about the blues.