Prisoners of Rock 'n' Roll 

The Black Keys Come Up and Up

THE BLACK KEYS You probably own most of their albums.

THE BLACK KEYS You probably own most of their albums.

THE BLACK KEYS should not be playing the Rose Garden. It is the sign of something gone very, very right: Portland's biggest room, when not housing Blazers losses, is ordinarily reserved for either legacy artists or the most populist, middling acts on the planet. Coldplay just played there. Roger Waters will soon, as will Nickelback—that Canadian rock behemoth of mediocrity that's the sworn enemy of all things Black Keys, according to drummer Patrick Carney's famous rant in Rolling Stone earlier this year.

After handily selling out two nights at the Crystal Ballroom back in 2010, this is the next logical step for the band, but the question remains: Who are all these fans filling the seats, and why did they latch onto the Black Keys, of all bands? It's not as if what Carney and guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach are doing is quantifiably unique, or particularly charismatic, or perceivably groundbreaking.

But I don't mean that as a slight: Looking through my record collection, I'm a little surprised to discover that I possess all but one of the Black Keys' seven albums (I'm missing The Big Come Up, their 2002 debut). I'm not altogether sure how that happened, but as someone who regularly craves new incarnations of the classic radio rock I grew up on, I suppose it's natural I gravitate toward their barebones, white-kid version of Chicago blues—their records dovetail neatly alongside the White Stripes and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion albums I compulsively acquired and now never listen to.

But I was also surprised at how drastically different their 2010 album Brothers and 2011's El Camino are from their earlier output. There's barely a blues song among 'em. El Camino, in particular, is kind of a great fucking rock-pop album, particularly in the beefy, glistening garage-soul revue of opening tracks "Lonely Boy," "Dead and Gone," and "Gold on the Ceiling." (Track four, "Little Black Submarines," sounds like a crappy rewrite of "Stairway to Heaven.") The band is better, more original, and far more confident than they've ever sounded. I can see why so many people want to see 'em.

But are there really enough to fill a basketball arena?

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