I don't often attend stadium shows and will freely admit I've been especially critical of the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre: the name is an embarrassment, the weather nearly always proves to be too wet (the recent Jonas Brothers show was canceled due to flooding), and good god the price of tickets is truly offensive. After Saturday's show, I can add to my complaints a pitch black packed sardine-tin of a tunnel to the ladies' room, and ushers whose answer to "Where is my seat?" was "Just sit anywhere and we'll figure it out later." [All photos by Tracy May.]
However, I was also reminded of the joys of attending a large show. The excitement of meeting a large group of friends before the concert and the way the voices and cheers of a crowd echo and add another element to the music is something only a larger show can offer. Even the weather on this particular evening was perfectly cooperative, with a mild breeze and cotton-candy colored sunset providing an ideal setting for the evening's entertainment from three solid bands.
Delayed by tailgating and chatting, I arrived for the last few songs of The Whigs' set. The Athens, Ga. rockers [pictured above] filled the stadium with their voices and proved to be an ideal selection as an opening band, their roots very much in the same musical vein as both Kings of Leon and The Black Keys.
When the The Black Keys last stopped in our area, they played a sold-out date at House of Blues in Orlando. Since that show, they've released the critically acclaimed Brothers and have been getting much mainstream recognition. This has put the Keys into an unusual predicament: they're a popular enough band to sell out smaller venues, yet not quite big enough to fill large ones on their own. (But apparently, neither are the Kings of Leon judging by the hundreds of empty seats surrounding us.)
The Black Keys blasted onstage with two older songs, "I'll be Your Man" (the theme from the HBO series Hung), and "Strange Times," drummer Patrick Carney to the left of the minimalist setup and guitarist Dan Auerbach [pictured] to the right. They've successfully built their sound around the simplicity of two musicians, Carney filling the arena with a raw pounding rhythm, while Auerbach's luscious voice rose above his soulful riffs and clouds of feedback. For the new material off Brothers, the Keys invited a keyboardist and bassist to flesh out their performance even more, adding additional layers of depth to the surprisingly lush sound the pair creates all on their own.