Once discounted as a knockoff of fellow blues-rock duo the White Stripes — including plenty of disparaging comments made by Stripes frontman Jack White himself — the Black Keys seemed more in line to garner Led Zeppelin comparisons Friday night at Target Center.
The Akron, Ohio-bred band has long since ditched the raw blues sound that earned it a solid live reputation when it played across the street from Target Center in the puny 7th Street Entry a decade ago. Its last two albums offered more polished, bravado-laden, brawny rock songs suitable for FM radio and sports arenas. Then the duo (a quartet on stage) turned more psychedelic and jammy on the latest album, "Turn Blue."
Twin Cities fans still showed a whole lotta love for the Keys, even though some of the new tunes and a few oddly chosen older tunes dragged heavily into dazed-and-confused territory.
The mostly blue-collar audience of more than 10,000 appeared to be having a blast Friday. It smelled like they were living it up, too, based on the spilled beer and herbal aroma in the air. It took a little while for those who turned out to get turned on, though.
The 105-minute show opened tentatively with the heavy new track "Dead and Gone" and the slower-grinding "Next Girl." Once the curtained backdrop fell to reveal a whoa-dude array of lighting rigs behind the stage, the energy kicked in mightily with the roof-raiser hit "Gold on the Ceiling." The crowd lit up again later with hard-romping "Howlin' for You" and the pre-encore finale "Lonely Boy."
Oddly, the end of the show lagged even more heavily than the start. The band delivered two of their haziest, mellowest new songs, "Weight of Love" and "Turn Blue," to start the encore, righting things only with the last tune, "Little Black Submarines."
Throughout it all, though, Dan Auerbach remained an impressive showman, with his fuzzed-out guitar-licking showmanship and lonely-howl, pseudo-bluesman voice. "She's Long Gone" was especially a strong showpiece for him, as he moaned in delight like Skip James and laid out a wicked solo that drew a loud cheer.
Disappointingly, the only pre-2006 song offered in the set list was 2002's "Leavin' Trunk," funked up mightily with the four-man lineup. The Keys should have rewarded older fans who've stuck with them by playing a few more oldies — at least the monstrous classic "10 a.m. Automatic." Even Zeppelin played the early hits fans wanted to hear when it got artier and loftier in its career.
Opening act Jake Bugg, whose career is well on its way at age 20, showed off several layers of talent at his sold-out show across the street at First Avenue earlier this year. However, the British singer/songwriter mostly just stuck to his rockiest side Friday, tearing through his snarly songs "Slumville Sunrise" and "Lightning Bolt" and even adding a rollicking beat to his gem of a ballad, "Me & You."
See Friday's set lists and more photos at startribune.com/music