Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys comes to Philly

Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys (image couurtesy of Wikipedia).

Daniel Dicker

Staff Writer

The stage is set, the lights are low, and at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, the audience grows loud with anticipation waiting on Dan Auerbach. An intimate venue, Union Transfer is the perfect size for Dan Auerbach’s new collection of Nashville all-stars to represent his newest release titled “Waiting On A Song.” In addition, the night’s concert features other acts on Auerbach’s new label “Easy Eye Sound,” such as Robert Finley and Shannon And The Clams, who was the opener for the night.


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Although time slows to a crawl before the show, the payback is immediate and Shannon And The Clams are an excellent primer for what is to come. True to form, the Clams bring full-fledged power as they launch into their catalogue, pulling mostly from their newest release “Onion” with Easy Eye Sound, although still playing some essentials from previous releases such as “Point of Being Right” and “Hey Louie.” Every solo by Cody Blanchard is punctuated with distortion that makes them that much more exciting. Shannon Shaw’s vocal presence is as unbelievably strong. Between some songs, each band member notes how fulfilling it has been to travel with Dan Auerbach and The Easy Eye Sound Revue. After closing the set with “Did You Love Me,” the band is met with incredible reception and the energy in the air lasts as the stage is re-organized to prepare for Auerbach.


A notable difference from Dan Auerbach in his solo career and his outings with Patrick Carney as “The Black Keys” is the unparalleled amount of instruments being brought to the stage. In addition to the usual onslaught of guitars Auerbach possesses, the lineup includes an upright bass, mandolins, resonators, electric pianos, bongos, tambourines, maracas, and more. Finally, the band graces the stage, including Auerbach himself, dressed exquisitely for the occasion – truly the days of a plain t-shirt and jeans are gone.


The audience erupts with exhilaration to see Dan, and this carries through the entirety of the show to his gratitude. Starting the show with songs in track order of his newest album, Auerbach sports a beautiful black acoustic guitar for the title track “Waiting On A Song,” a delightful summer-sounding melody which according to Auerbach was written about Nashville session musicians. As the song ends and the lighting turns to an alluring neon blue, Auerbach swaps guitars, which continues throughout the show and speaks volumes to just how varied and diverse his newest release really is.


Auerbach is always sure to shout out the band whenever the opportunity strikes, and while they all compliment Dan incredibly well, they also contrast playing styles in exciting ways. For “Malibu Man,” guitarist Russ Pahl plays a guitar that emulates the sound of a Sitar, and trades elaborate solos with Dante Schwebel, the latter actually having joined Auerbach in his 2009 tour promoting his first album “Keep It Hid.” Pahl however has worked with many artists, and Auerbach himself notes that between all the musicians on stage, they have collectively worked with Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and more. The most fluid of all the musicians is Pat McClaughlin, supplying a variety of backing instruments from mandolin to guitar, vocals, and even a whistle for “Cherrybomb.”


Although Dan showcases almost the entirety of “Waiting On A Song,” there is also incorporation of some of previously unreleased material “just for the hell of it”, according to him. The first is “Pull Me Under Love,” which starts with Dan singing falsetto over a steady riff but turns to an all-out vamp of blues rock glory. On the flipside, “Trouble Waits For You” is a light-hearted acoustic folk tune for which the entire band harmonizes with Dan. Also delivered is an incredible take on Fleetwood Mac’s instrumental “Albatross,” played in a similar fashion to the original recording but played soulfully as ever.


To further feature Easy Eye Sound, Shannon Shaw is brought back onto the stage to sing two songs of which the audience is told will be on her upcoming solo album, of course riveting news to any fan. The first song is titled “Cold Pillows,” which is reminiscent of the slow doo-wop sound the Clams have mastered in their time, whereas “Broke My Own” is a confident yet melancholy blues rock track. As enchanting as Shannon is, it’s hard to miss Dan’s look of admiration towards her as she gives her all to each performance – very obviously he is glad to have her on his record label.


Only one or two songs go by without Shannon until the next guest Robert Finley is escorted onto the stage. Sixty-five years old and going blind, Finley might need help getting onto the stage, but he holds his own in terms of entertainment. For the first song “Medicine Woman,” Finley is lively as can be, dancing and engaging with the audience to their delight. Grinning ear to ear, Finley is pleasant as can he feeds off the crowd’s energy while also returning it. While setting up the next track, “Holy Wine,” he explains how Dan encouraged him to make a song out of some basic ideas Finley had, but upon completion thought it had what it took to be “the number one song.” Finley also articulated many times how grateful he is to Dan, and they both hug before Finley goes backstage again.


As the show nears an end, Auerbach also pulls a song from his 2009 album “Keep It Hid” titled “Trouble Weighs A Ton.” While simplistic in its original recording, the live version is anything but, starting as Auerbach just strumming a few chords while singing “What’s wrong, dear brother? Have you lost your faith? Don’t you remember a better place? Needles and things done you in, like the setting sun. Oh, dear brother, trouble weighs a ton.” But with one hit on the drums, the song explodes with monumental harmonies and soulful solos, really showing Dan’s ability to conquer many genres. It becomes evident however once the band starts “Stand By My Girl” that this song was not to be missed, as it draws the biggest reaction of any other song thus far. Pounding bass and infectious riffs are elevated to perfection when put alongside Dan’s passionate singing on the topic of a lover who may or may have ulterior motives.


To close the show, Dan implores anyone to sing along to the final song “Shine On Me.” While not complex in any way, the brilliance of this tune how well it lends itself to call and response, which in a packed venue like this, can really invigorate and bring a crowd together. It’s experiences like these that can turn an already unforgettable concert that much better. Luckily, this turns out not to be the end as Robert Finley comes out for an encore, who is then joined by Dan in performing “Get It While You Can,” an addictive song from Finley’s newest release “Goin’ Platinum!”


The definitive moment then comes as the entire band exits the stage, leaving just Dan and his acoustic guitar, playing a heartfelt lament “Going Home,” for which Auerbach almost seems to choke up singing “I want the sun to hit my face, Through oak trees in the open lot, Forget about the things you want, Be thankful for what all you’ve got.” A beautiful reflection on life and home, Auerbach bears his soul in a performance that manages to top all that came before using just his own voice and guitar. As the crowd ecstatically praises him, he waves goodbye and wishes them safe travels home, hoping to see them again.


After the concert, both Robert Finley and Shannon Shaw were in the lobby meeting fans and taking pictures, both of whom were extremely pleasant to be around and glad to talk with anyone. When asked why the Clams didn’t play a personal favorite “How Long”, Shannon laughed “I didn’t know anyone wanted to hear it!”


Ultimately, Dan Auerbach and the Easy Eye Sound Revue is more than just a concert, it’s a celebration of the expansive library the label already has, it it’s sure to get even more impressive over time.