One of America’s favorite blues-rock bands, The Black Keys, and rising star, English singer-songwriter Jake Bugg, enthralled an almost-full house Friday night at Portland’s Moda Center. Concertgoers dressed appropriately for the Halloween night, though there were few tricks and far more musical treats to excite and delight the party crowd.
Jake Bugg gains fans but keeps things short
Jake Bugg walked onstage at 8 p.m., playing to a partly-empty arena while taking it all in stride with a smooth, professional delivery of hits from both his albums. However, there was to be no heartfelt “Country Road,” no philosophical “Simple As This” nor the tender, transcendent “Broken” coming from Mr. Bugg Friday night. Rather, Bugg’s setlist carefully focused on his higher octane tracks – most likely selected to match the mood generated by an audience who were there primarily to see headliners The Black Keys.
Bugg opened with “There’s a Beast and We All Feed It” from his “Shangri La” release, then “Trouble Town” and “Two Fingers” from his debut “Jake Bugg” album. He mixed things up a bit by adding a cool, suspenseful and intriguing guitar intro to “Seen It All,” but when all was said and done, likely the song that turned the most heads was “Taste It.” Here, Bugg delivered a blistering guitar solo in the most casual of manners that finally made those die-hard Black Keys fans pay a bit closer attention.
If you’re starting to get the feeling some of us are a bit partial to Bugg, you’re wrong – at least, it would be wrong to admit so in a review such as this. But ultimately, the night belonged to The Black Keys, who tore it up on stage, deftly delivering all of the hit songs they’re known for in a dynamic, well-paced setlist that brought many to their feet and kept them up.
It being Halloween, just about every-other-person in attendance wore costumes ranging from pirates and priests to a king, a joker, angels and even a cow; everyone waited expectantly for The Black Keys to emerge while “The Monster Mash” played over loudspeakers.
The Black Keys: masterful performers who let their music do the talking
To great applause, The Black Keys took the stage and opened their show with “Dead and Gone” and “Next Girl;” but truthfully, the place didn’t seem to hit full momentum until they lit into the opening chords of El Camino’s “Run Right Back.” After that, there was no holding back — from either the stage, or the crowd.
Great lighting and a few tasteful special effects – primarily a dozen or more video screens behind the stage depicting the musicians from various angles – added entertainment value along with, predictably, some colorful visual tricks using artwork from their new “Turn Blue” album.
Songs from “Turn Blue” included “It’s Up to You Now,” “Fever,” and the title track, with “Gotta Get Away” among those eliciting the strongest response from the crowd. They held their fans in rapt attention and spellbound, with minimal small talk or chatter, imparting to everyone there the vibe of a band who simply loves what they do…and we love them for that. Lead guitar player Dan Auerbach got down on one knee by front-row fans with a fun guitar performance during “Money Maker,” and asked fans to “help us out” when singing some of the last songs of the night.
Show highlights: “Fever,” “Howlin’ for You,” their timeless and dandy signature song “Tighten Up” from their “Brothers” release, and the guitar-blasting “Lonely Boy” which prompted a standing ovation and brought the band back for a “Little Black Submarines” encore.
A personal favorite? That’d be the bracing “Gold on the Ceiling” from their El Camino release, delivered full-tilt early in the evening and setting the stage for a grand night, indeed.
Minor quibbles: the sound system for both acts probably could’ve been clearer and better, Bugg’s setlist could’ve been longer, and (“surprise!”), beer at the Moda Center is still too expensive.
To sum up
Overall, a very satisfying, very memorable night of music. The Black Keys have a pretty astonishing repertoire, converting some of us from “moderate” to “extreme” fans — a good thing; you can check out their website to see where their U.S. / Europe tour takes them next.
The same can be said for Jake Bugg – a music sensation in the U.K., his appearances with the Black Keys should help expand his fan base here in the U.S.
Lastly, music merchandise tables on Friday were ample and popular with the crowd…there’s at least one concertgoer who loves her new “Jake Bugg” t-shirt.
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