Ohio's cult-loved blues-rock duo graduated to the arena from clubs with a perfectly bigger sound.
How fitting that the Black Keys opened their Target Center concert Tuesday with "Howlin' for You" -- a song that not only begs to be the anthem for arena basketball games, but also set the charging tempo for a performance that truly went in for the kill.
The Keys had a lot to prove Tuesday. An indie duo that last played across the street at First Avenue nightclub just two short years ago, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and his childhood pal-drummer Patrick Carney turned more than a few heads by making a sudden leap to arenas on their current tour. Many longtime Keys fans were skeptical of how the little band with the roaring sound would fare in such an enormous room.
A decade of hard touring and strong press earned the Keys an impressive Target Center debut crowd of 11,000, and they had equally little trouble filling the arena musically.
Although they mostly operated as a four-piece group (with two additional musicians), the old cronies played four songs midset in their original twosome format. Ironically, their two-man sound reverberated louder than most of the set, including "Girl Is on My Mind" and the oldies "I'll Be Your Man" and "Thick-freakness." Seeing the fans on the packed arena floor bang their heads to the latter song the same way 200 of them did at 7th Street Entry years ago was uncanny.
But the Keys have vastly expanded their sound over their past two albums, "Brothers" and "El Camino," and Tuesday's concert also deftly showcased that evolution. The wicked showpiece "Ten Cent Pistol" was beautifully muddied with slinky organ and bass lines, and the new gem "Gold on the Ceiling" came off like an amped-up swamp-pop classic. Conversely, "Little Black Submarines" started out as a tender acoustic ballad but turned into a hazy, Beatles-like jam.
Tuesday's performance was a little too showy in spots. The giant mirror-balls that spun overhead during "Everlasting Light" to start the encore would barely have fit in inside the Entry 10 years ago. By the time the band stripped back to a duo for the finale, "I Got Mine," however, the gimmicks were gone and the only things spinning were fans' heads.
British openers the Arctic Monkeys delivered a blurry, blitzkrieg-tempoed set that fit the Keys in spirit, pulling from classic British punk bands such as the Jam and Buzzcocks with the same gusto and sincerity that the Keys pull from old bluesmen. Much of the crowd missed their walloping kickoff, "Brianstorm," but fans trickled in by the time they got to their choppy hit "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor."
Frontman Alex Turner came off as especially adept at becoming an arena-rock star, making the most buffoonish, drunken-sounding comment of the night as he urged the crowd to keep the party going. "I know it's Monday night, but it feels more like Saturday night," he cackled in his thick cockney accent.
Presumably, he would've said something similar had he known it was actually Tuesday.
See the bands' set lists at startribune.com/artcetera.