Concert Review by Garrett D. Kennedy
September 9, 2015 | Housing Works Bookstore Café, New York City – Expectations were high. Heck, Rolling Stone Magazine’s David Fricke was behind me in line, NPR was taping the show, and All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen was snapping pictures next to me once Dan Auerbach and company took the stage.
Fans entered the door to receive two free drink tickets courtesy of Housing Works and Miller Lite. I had one alcoholic water, then switched to iced coffee.
The Black Keys’ singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and his new band, The Arcs, performed at Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York City last Wednesday night. The Arcs consist of longtime collaborators – Richard Swift and Leon Michels – as well as Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon, Kenny Vaughan and the women of Mariachi Flor De Toloache.
In recent years, The Black Keys have sold out venues as large as Madison Square Garden. To see Auerbach in such a small venue these days was quite the treat. Housing Works, staffed by almost all volunteers, is a nonprofit bookstore, cafe, and event space that donates all its proceeds to their mission of fighting AIDS and homelessness. The Black Keys held their release of Brothers there back in 2010.
I’ve never seen The Black Keys so close up. Maybe I missed this, but on Wednesday night Auerbach seemed to have quite the swagger. He made his own excitement about his new band obvious to the audience, often finishing songs with a smirk, closed eyes, and breathes through the nose – like a sigh of relief and sign of things to come.
In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s All Things Considered, Auerbach said, “I feel something’s happening…it’s very exciting.” Towards the end of the concert, he even said they’re going to play two songs next, a cover and one from the next album – with a “yeah” at the end – like that’s how good we are and, no, this isn’t just a side project.
Auerbach told Rolling Stone, “We have 75 songs. We had to keep telling ourselves to stop writing new songs so we could finish old ones.”
Now, I might just be losing my hearing from blasting music and wearing those damn earbuds – but there’s just something about live music – there’s more punch to each instrument (although when drinking Miller Lite, there’s more punch to everything), and this brought The Arcs’ debut album, Yours, Dreamily, to life.
The public’s first introduction to The Arcs was the first single Outta My Mind, which could have fit well on the last two Keys’ albums El Camino and Turn Blue.
Auerbach’s songs have become more chorus-y since the Keys’ first four albums. He has been playing a lot with his falsetto, which makes fans nostalgic for the rugged voice from Rubber Factory, possibly the Keys’ best album. However, without experimentation, Brothers, the Keys’ most fully realized album, may not have been created. On that album we first got to hear Auerbach play with his voice.
With The Arcs, Auerbach is experimenting with more than his voice. Mariachi Flor De Toloache, a mariachi band made up of three women, opened the show. Auerbach had invited them into the studio for one song, yet they blew him away and became an official part of the band. When The Arcs took the stage, they opened with the Otis Redding-like Stay in My Corner. This is an example where experimentation pays off – you’ll wake up singing the refrain: “Stay in my corner, babe / I will fight for you if you fight for me too.”
The most experimental songs were Everything You Do (You Do For You) and Come & Go. The former was referred to by Gross as a “creepy carnival.” I can’t help but think both songs were influenced by Auerbach’s appreciation for Dr. John, and his experience working as the producer of John’s latest albumLocked Down – referred to by NPR as “swamp grooves,” which captures the vibe of these two Arcs’ songs.
The Arcs stand as a platform for Auerbach to experiment and implement other music influences – other than the blues singers like Junior Kimbrough that influenced The Black Keys.
The only disappointment of the night was that The Arcs didn’t play my favorite of theirs, Searching the Blue. However, the highlight of the night, which I touched on before, was how excited Auerbach was about his new band. In Searching the Blue, Auerbach sings, “Is anything we do ever going to last?” And I think what will last is Auerbach’s curiosity to keep searching, and his fans’ anticipation of what he creates next.
The Arcs play again in New York City at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, September 26th. Courtesy of Studio 7 at 101WKQ, check out a cool interview and session of stripped down versions of the band’s songs below:
For more information on The Arcs, please visit: