The Black Keys proved with a May 8, 2012, KeyArena concert that even a small group can make big rock 'n' roll.

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Concert Review |

The Black Keys didn’t need a lot onstage Tuesday night at KeyArena to create a huge sound. Normally just a duo — of drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist Dan Auerbach — they added another guitarist and a keyboard player for this tour. But their show was nonetheless a perfect example of how great songs are all it takes to make a concert memorable.

From the opener “Howlin’ for You,” through to the set ender “Lonely Boy,” it was a performance that emphasized musicianship over artifice. The only stage effects were four stands of spotlights, and short video clips projected behind the band. It hardly seemed like they had much gear.

Auerbach began by urging the crowd, “let’s get it moving.” And they did, knocking off 20 songs in 90 minutes without any lags to an audience of 10,000 — only half capacity — that didn’t stop moving.

Auerbach hardly spoke, and Carney was silent. Before “Girl Is on My Mind” Auerbach did admit they had repeatedly listened to the Sonics “Shot Down” before writing the song. “We just met the Sonics tonight [backstage]. That was amazing,” he said.

Auerbach promised the night would feature several “new” songs, but by that he meant material from 2011’s “El Camino.” Those tracks were well received, but it was “Tighten Up” from their 2010 album “Brothers” that got the biggest round of applause.

Though often compared to the White Stripes, the Black Keys are a more melodic band than the Stripes. And while Meg White has her charms as a drummer, Carney is in an entirely different league, and he just killed behind his set.

The videos that played behind the band were part-Robert Frank road film, and part-Andy Warhol primary color wash. It was a clever and experimental way of adding a visual element without having it dominate the concert-going experience.

The Black Keys are themselves an experiment of sorts in minimalism. “Gold on the Ceiling,” for example, is nothing but a guitar riff, and a drumbeat, but that’s enough. It’s an example of how the freshest rock music always comes from the basics. No other adornments are needed.

It is a lesson that has been true in rock ‘n’ roll since the days of the Sonics — it doesn’t take a lot, to make a big noise.

Charles R. Cross: therocketmagazinelives@gmail

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