REVIEW: The Black Keys and Modest Mouse at Fiserv Forum

When it comes to putting on a great, traditional, arena rock show, sometimes the beauty is in the simplicity of a well executed performance. That was most certainly the case for The Black Keys, who’s simply named “Let’s Rock” Tour swept through Fiserv Forum on Friday night. At this point in their career, the combination of frontman Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney collectively know that they don’t need a lot of frills to make their show excellent. They provided some anyway.

The night kicked off with emerging act Jessy Wilson, who was able to captivate the early visitors to Fiserv Forum with her succinct set of bluesy, soulful vocals with a twangy rock bed underneath. Wilson is a discovery of Dan Auerbach’s, and she worked the crowd early with an act that likely becomes more polished with every show on the tour. Keep an eye out for Wilson, because the right song could catapult her into the mainstream fast.

Modest Mouse followed Wilson, and much like The Black Keys, the veteran indie rockers brought their signature sound and style to the Milwaukee crowd. The band is a large ensemble in a touring package, complete with a pair of drummers, extra percussion, keys, and the occasional trumpet. That being said, all of those elements made for a solid opening act, with a string of tracks that were perhaps a bit too mellow to get people out of their seats, but a reminder of the range of the band. To the dismay of some fans, some of their biggest hits, including breakout “Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty”, didn’t make Friday’s setlist. In fairness, they did their job as an opening act, and set the tone for what was to come.

At first glance during the set changeover, it was glaringly obvious that there was simply too much stage space for just the combination of Auerbach and Carney, especially with the pair being set up front and center on the stage to get as close to fans as possible. When the lights dimmed, the duo appeared calmly on stage next to a three piece backing band that mostly went unacknowledged until the end of the night. Auerbach took his place in front of a wall of amps, some new, some retro and road-worn, and launched into opener “I Got Mine”. Auerbach also ripped into the first of many shredding solos shortly thereafter.

It wasn’t until fourth song and first hit of the night, “Gold On The Ceiling” that the true arena-rock spectacle stage was unveiled, with a big screen showing GoPro footage of the band, and two walls of lights flanking the stage. Frankly, the band could have played in front of just the curtain that was up for the first three songs and still made for a stellar performance. A flurry of hits, including “Fever” and “Howlin’ For You” got the crowd going, with the latter inducing one of the loudest singlaongs of the night. While the crowd may have been tentative at some points throughout the show, The Black Keys were able to get the fans up, dancing, and in many cases, playing bad air guitar.

In support of their latest album, also named “Let’s Rock”, the set featured about half of the release, though it was woven into the better part of a 21-song set (including encore). The band really broke out with 2014’s “Brothers”, and the band honored that album with a handful of album cuts, including “Ten Cent Pistol” and “Tighten Up”. The night’s encore consisted of “Let’s Rock” tracks “Hi/Lo” and “Go”, before ending with “Brothers” rocker “She’s Long Gone”.

When it comes down to it, the heart and soul of The Black Keys’ live show is just that; The Black Keys. While they did have big screens and hydraulic light bars moving throughout the night, the fans wanted a straight-up rock show, and the band more than delivered on that. If you wanted a band that could fill an arena with sound and get the crowd moving, and didn’t need much beyond that, Friday night at Fiserv Forum was your night.

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