Black Keys guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach kicked off his new tour in Vancouver Saturday night, the first solo excursion he has embarked on since 2009's Keep It Hid album. What is clear from his live performance at the Vogue is that the musician is extremely talented and much loved — wailing on the guitar with his notorious stoic swagger. But Auerbach's menial solo songs were not quite able to push the performance into the excellent realm.
Auerbach is already a legend, having created more than his fair share of epic Southern-inspired rock songs. But most of his solo work, from Keep It Hid and the new Waiting on a Song album, doesn't have the dark, bluesy whine that people love him for. Perhaps it's Auerbach's rock poet persona that doesn't quite mesh with all the decidedly happier-than-usual material he's been putting out. Regardless, the guy can play, and one can't help but be impressed at his near-perfect vocal delivery.
Auerbach and backing band the Easy Eye Sound Revue kicked off the night with the new album's title song "Waiting on a Song." It was clear from the get-go that it was going to be an easy listening night — "Living in Sin" had the swarm of mostly male fans near the front of the stage hollering and chugging their pilsners. Meanwhile, Auerbach remained relaxed and focused, moving around the stage in a suit.
The highlight of the evening came when Auerbach invited swamp-blues aficionado Robert Finley on stage. Due to not having the right paperwork at the Canadian border, Finley was made a Canadian citizen for the day, and the Vogue was more than happy to bond with their new countryman.
Straight out of Louisiana and approaching his mid-60s, Finley is in possession of an envy-inducing soul falsetto. Auerbach believe him to be "the greatest living soul singer," and has signed him to his label, produced and written songs with him.
"Just how he walked into your life… that's how he walked into mine," said Auerbach of Finley. "In a three-quarter length leather duster and snakeskin boots."
Finley slinked around the stage in a dressy cowboy get-up — grinning ear to ear, swinging his hips and even dropping close to the floor on more than one occasion. Auerbach gave him the stage to himself for the most part, backing the soul singer through "Medicine Woman" and "Get It While You Can," to name a few.
Of Auerbach's solo material, "Cherrybomb," "Never in My Wildest Dreams" and "Undertow" stand out as provocative, lovely and reminiscent of his Black Keys charm. "Undertow," from Waiting on a Song, features Auerbach's signature shiver-inducing guitar riffs and a wholly infectious melody, but with an odd choral, upbeat bridge, reminiscent of some of Electric Light Orchestra's work.
Auerbach's leading single off the new album, "Shine on Me" — a not-so-infectious, too-good-feeling song — was not the best way to end the main set. He would have been better sticking with "Undertow." While Auerbach solo material is what hindered the Vogue show from being truly great, the Easy Eye Sound Revue and guest Finley brought the show to a higher musical calibre. Auerbach is an amazing musician, he just may need to go deeper into the soul-blues-country hybrid genre he admires so much in older musicians.