Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland
2010 was the best year of my life. I think about it from time to time, and I miss it. I remember when the clock struck midnight and it became 2011—I was sad. And I was at an Ellis Paul concert at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, so that’s saying something. I think what made the year so special was that great friends and I went to Vieques, Puerto Rico in February and made a list of things we wanted to do in the year before our next birthdays. My list of “31 Things to Do Before Turning 31” was impressive (if I say so myself), and included things like—“ride in a hot air balloon,” “visit a friend abroad,” “learn how to make a mojito,” and “read Jane Eyre.” I slowly ticked things off my list. One of the biggest things I did that year was “visit Alaska.” I have always wanted to go, and my friend Brady spent summers there working as a hiking/rafting guide for people coming off cruise ships. He said I was more than welcome to visit, and I took him up on it. I went in July for about ten days, and really had the time of my life. I have never been sadder to leave a place in my life. It felt like summer camp. I almost cried when I left Skagway on the ferry back to Juneau. I think I would have postponed my return flight, but I had tickets to see Counting Crows the day after I landed (I saw Brandi Carlile and Good Old War the night before I left), and I was officiating my friends’ wedding a few days after that.
Alaska is where I met Nate Weiler (another guide and Brady’s friend) and saw Trampled By Turtles for the first time at the Red Onion in “downtown” Skagway. It’s also the place where I was introduced to The Black Keys. Brady made me a hearty oatmeal breakfast one of the first mornings I was there and then left for work. His housemate, the life-loving Jesse Guilliams, was getting ready for work a bit later and cranked some tunes on the CD player in their living room. He said to me, “You’ve GOT to hear this,” and out came “Everlasting Light” by The Black Keys. I rarely remember exactly where I was when I’ve heard most other songs for the first time, but that one was just too good. I was instantly a fan.
When I heard that the State Theatre was bringing The Black Keys to Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center, I was pumped. I bought my tickets the moment they went on sale. They were expensive (and for a lot of my friends, cost prohibitive). Ticketmaster is obviously evil, and I think tickets were just shy of $60 each with service fees. I haven’t paid that much for a show since last summer when I went to see U2 (the loves of my life) on back-to-back nights in Montreal at the Hippodrome with 80,000 other adoring fans. I love The Black Keys, but their tickets shouldn’t cost as much as U2’s.
I eventually sold my other ticket to one of my seniors who really wanted to go but didn’t have the cash until nearer to the show and after they’d already sold out. The afternoon of the show, I was pretty entertained by the Facebook inquiries all over the place by people in search of tickets for the show, learning how much the tickets cost, and then deliberating over how much they really wanted to spend on tickets.
I had coffee that afternoon with two former students—one is a music aficionado who I met up with in December to see City and Colour in Boston where she goes to school. She told me she really likes Arctic Monkeys—the opening band slated for the show later that night.
I’d talked to a bunch of my kiddos at school that day about our strategies for where to watch the show from that night. Since I was going alone, I banked on the idea that I could get there just before 7:30 when Arctic Monkeys took the stage and still get a single seat a few rows up from the floor very near the stage. I knew a lot of people going to the show, but decided I was not interested in fighting to hold my position on the floor to be with them. My strategy paid off super well. I got a killer parking spot really close to the Cumberland County Civic Center and found a single seat next to a really nice couple from New Hampshire four rows away from the stage. We chatted for a few minutes and realized we’d both seen Red Hot Chili Peppers with Foo Fighters at Cumberland County Civic Center in May of 2000. I told her that Dave Grohl had jumped up on a speaker right next to me during the show and she exclaimed, “That’s where we were, too!” It’s such a small world.
UK’s Arctic Monkeys took the stage. I immediately lamented the fact that I’d forgotten all of the many pairs of earplugs that I usually carry back at Sarah’s apartment in Brunswick. They were loud. I am wholly unfamiliar with their music, and frankly, every song just sounded loud, nearly incomprehensible, and repetitive to me. I started looking at my phone to see how long it would be until they were done about 15 minutes (okay, maybe 10 minutes) into their set. I know that sounds harsh, but their music is just not my thing. I am unabashedly a folk/indie girl. I am confident that if I knew their music (which their live show did not inspire me to explore), I would have been more interested. The lead singer didn’t say much, except to drop an F bomb from time to time to prove how much of a rock star he is. I didn’t hate two of the songs I heard, though—“Florescent Adolescent” and “Where The Sun Goes Down” weren’t bad. I mentioned my criticisms to some of my kids at school the next day, and even though most of them like the band and their music, they agreed with my assessment that their songs are all pretty similar and that the lead singer wasn’t particularly in touch with the crowd.
Arctic Monkeys wrapped up and immediately the crowd started surging. I generally like to be very close to the stage for shows, but that was exactly what I was expecting, so I was tickled to have my amazing seat above the melee. The event staff handled the crowd well. They were hydrating the people up front and kept things as safe as they could for everyone who’d packed in like sardines for the show on the floor. The room really started to feel full. I also got to people watch, and the crowd was quite diverse. Certainly, The Black Keys have all kinds of fans, but it was even more evident from glancing around the room how true that is.
The Black Keys opened with “Howlin’ For You”—one of my favorite songs from their 2011 Brothers album. There were two young girls—sisters, I imagine—probably 10 and 12 years old, fist pumping directly in front of me. It might have been their first concert (very cool) and I thought they were adorable. They stayed for the whole show, too, on a school night and everything. The Black Keys played some other favorites—“Next Girl,” “Gold On The Ceiling,” and “Little Black Submarines.” I like “Little Black Submarines” a lot because it’s different than their other songs. It’s as close to a ballad as they come from The Black Keys. I love the acoustic introduction to the song on the album and like the spot-on line, “I should’ve seen it glow/But everybody knows/That a broken heart is blind.” “Tighten Up,” which is probably the song that made them an “it” band, sounded amazing. The drum part is so incredible (I could say that about every song, basically, but it’s really true here).
It was great to hear even older stuff, including “Same Old Thing,” which has a lyric I like—“Just the same old thing/No matter how much love you try to bring/It’s just the same old thing/You got a callous heart/From being torn apart” and “I’ll Be Your Man” from their first album in 2002.
Somewhere towards the end of the night I noticed a tiny girl pop up on someone’s shoulders near the front of the crowd. I immediately recognized her as Kelly (a sophomore at my school). She stayed up there, totally rocking out, for the rest of the show. It was adorable. It made my night.
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are an incredible duo. They make so much glorious sound together. From Akron, Ohio, they’ve been friends forever, and were just inducted into their high school’s Hall of Fame. Patrick doesn’t just play the drums—there has to be a better word for it—he pummels them. He creates the heart of their sound. I like folk music, but something about the percussion—the driving force and intensity—well, it’s incredible. Dan’s voice is raspy but clear, and he plays a mean guitar. For their tour, they rounded out the sound with two more musicians—one on bass and the other alternating between guitar and keys. No one had a lot to say, but the music was superb.
They closed their set with “Lonely Boy.” If you haven’t seen the video for that, you may be the only one. Aspiring actor and security guard Derrick Tuggle memorized the song, made up a dance, and what became the video was done in a single take. To date, it’s gotten almost 11 million views. Everyone was on their feet dancing along. The crowd raucously demanded an encore, and they guys came back out a few minutes later; after something had been set up by the crew back stage.
They played “Everlasting Light,” the song that made me a fan, while a gigantic disco ball in the back of the auditorium lit up the room like it was a starry night. I think that song sounds best on the album, though—it loses some of the power live (I watched a lot of videos on YouTube of it before I came to this conclusion). Dan’s falsetto on that song was impressive. We found out that what had been set up before the encore was a giant “The Black Keys” sign that lit up. It provided a very cool backdrop.
Dan thanked the crowd and told us that it was one of the best shows they’ve played in a long time (readers from away who’ve seen them live can let us know if he just says that in every city). His comment made me wonder what makes a great crowd in the eyes of performers when the venues are that big. They closed the night with a song from three albums back, “I Got Mine.” Dan really rocked out on guitar. I don’t know how Pat can play with that much energy every night. He was impressive. I’d happily see these guys again, but I’d pay less, and I think I’d brave the floor for the full effect. They sounded spot-on and are masters of their craft.