MANSFIELD — There are times when it’s hard not to suspect that a band is touring in support of an album that they simply don’t believe in. Take the Black Keys. May’s “Dropout Boogie” is already slight enough — a little shy of 35 minutes, the band’s shortest — to suggest that they ran out of ideas sooner than normal. And there they were Friday at the Xfinity Center, dipping into the album for just three songs, as many as they featured from the 10-year-old “El Camino” and half as many as they played from 2010′s “Brothers.”
That’s legacy-band setlist curation, the tactics of an act that slips a handful of new material into a set otherwise designed to lean heavily on the familiarity of fan favorites. But if Friday’s concert offered the spectacle of a band becoming a nostalgia act in real time, at least the Black Keys never became too self-indulgent. The songs were short and to the point; even when “It Ain’t Over” stopped for a space-rock solo by guitarist Dan Auerbach, he brought it in for a landing in under a minute. The expansion of the core guitar/drums duo (well-lit down front) to include bass, keyboard, a second guitar, and percussion (in shadow on a riser in back) was also kept efficient, with the extra musicians there simply to fill out the sound rather than make the songs more intricate or layered.
That might have added more dimension to the material, where it seemed like the glassine guitar plinks in the moody “Fever” and the falsetto vocal in the lagging mid-tempo chug of “Everlasting Light” encompassed most of the variation in a set that seemed built around one-riff (and often one-chord) songs, despite a guitar assist from veteran blues sideman Kenny Brown on a mid-show spotlight on old blues covers. Auerbach’s vocals were perpetually even-keeled and unruffled even when he pushed for a blues yawp; even on a classic screamer like “Have Love, Will Travel,” he remained cool and matter-of-fact.
Patrick Carney’s drums, on the other hand, came preloaded with a stiffly lopsided clatter, infusing an off-kilter urgency directly into the spine of the songs. The strong stop/start drive of “Your Touch” and modestly more complex compositions of “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Lonely Boy” provided solid deviations from the Black Keys’ formula. It was a smooth enough ride, but it would be more exciting if they turned their eyes a bit more from the rearview to the road they’re on.
Opening act Ceramic Animal was essentially Stillwater from “Almost Famous,” showing plenty of promise with its driving and occasionally moody ‘70s-style rock flecked with flash guitar and a dollop of preening swagger. The fully-bearded Band of Horses followed by energizing the soft psychedelia of the Flaming Lips with a charging gallop and bright anthemic churn.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc
THE BLACK KEYS
With Band of Horses and Ceramic Animal. At Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Friday