I've been asking how the Black Keys got so big ever since they began packing larger venues like House of Blues, where I saw them back in 2010. Now they're playing fucking arenas. I've been a fairly hard-core fan since the beginning and still consider 2003's Thickfreakness to be the apex of their sound. But no rock & roll class warfare or cries of "sell-out" or any of that indie abandonment rancor here. I believe that the Black Keys should be where they are right now. My sweet disbelief is that, in spite of the steep odds and dumb dynamics of the popular music machine, it actually happened.
Their recent splash in the big time (Dec. 17, Amway Center) was a deluxe spectacle of lights, video and thousands of people dancing and singing along. There's no denying the power of all that, and it's pretty inspiring to see a band like this get the full rock-star treatment.
The Black Keys are not the same band as when they began, but they've made the crossover without compromising their standard – not an easy thing to do. History is paved with good bands that've had to retreat back in the indie ranks to reclaim quality or else simply elected to sell their souls. The thing the Keys have stuck to, however, is modernizing the classic American sound. They did it well enough to ultimately define it and become one of the greatest bands of their time.
In last week's issue, Nikki Lane's current album, All or Nothin', made my personal Top 10 for this year. After spending weeks agonizing over my picks, dedicating them to words and then finally turning them in, of course, I immediately proceed to second-guess my final cut. But after seeing her perform live (Dec. 14, House of Blues), any nagging doubt evaporated in a big ol' poof cloud. She's got sharp songs, a good band and a deep, projecting voice that fills the rafters. A bombshell of ballsy femininity, it's a thing of reach with long, elegant wingspan and a whip-cracking Loretta edge. Lane is the genuine article and a bright star just waiting to shoot. She's indie enough to be interesting, but not alienatingly so. In other words, anyone who's into young country music needs to give her a serious spin.
The latest show by the erudite Accidental Music Festival (Dec. 15, Will's Pub) was headlined by Man Forever, the experimental percussion music project of Oneida's Kid Millions. Like he does in each of the cities he takes Man Forever, Kid Millions' seven-piece – I will not call it a drum circle – percussion ensemble was populated by credentialed local players.
Be it strings, horns or guitars, seven players of most any instrument is an easily imaginable concept. But seven drummers – especially ones who don't play together full-time – have the potentiality of a highway pileup. So credit goes to Kid Millions and the hometown corps for not being a loud popcorn bag live. Instead, this centipede of hands and sticks began like orchestrated rain, then snapped to the low end en masse to sound like an advancing tornado, and eventually opened into a tribal drone that swept over untamed landscapes. Each composition was an odyssey of endurance drumming and, once he got back behind his full kit for the finale, Kid Millions proved himself a tireless beast of a locomotive, pounding with all limbs for almost a half-hour straight to deliver a moving rhythm quest.
Before, some locals performed pieces that were more intimate on their own imported sound array, which – paired with their extraordinary instruments – was on an entirely different sonic cloud. One of the night's highlights was Matt Roberts and Kaylee Bonatakis performing Tristan Perich's "Observations," a chimingly rhythmic composition that pairs percussion with 1-bit electronics. It's a symphonic collision of clang and blip that yields an unexpected and stunning fusion that rings like a beautiful alarm.
By reliably presenting music that can – more than most – be considered truly modern, the Accidental Music Festival continues to prove its place as one of the flagships for the city's non-rock contemporary music scene.
Ready the champagne because TLU's annual Undie awards are next week.