The Black Keys show swagger

Katy Winn/Associated Press
Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, shown in December in Los Angeles.

Right in the middle of the first song, “Howlin’ for You,’’ when the guitar riffs caromed off the heavy crash of drums, the unthinkable came to mind: The Black Keys weren’t always this big. Not their songs, their popularity, or even their stage presence.

At the TD Garden last night, where more than 14,000 roaring fans sold out the house, it was clear singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have shed their indie status; they’re newly crowned superstars.

Now a decade into their career, it’s hard to imagine why it took so long. You could say tastes in modern rock finally caught up to the Black Keys, not the other way around. Their sound, rooted in the blues but cracked wide open with primal licks straight out of rock both classic and contemporary, cuts across generations. Lighters alongside illuminated cellphones would make sense at their shows.


Playing most of their latest album, “El Camino,’’ and a good part of its predecessor, 2010’s “Brothers,’’ Auerbach and Carney kept last night’s show tightly wound right at 90 minutes. It was a ferocious set full of swagger and bombast occasionally offset by slow-burning detours (“Ten Cent Pistol,’’ “Little Black Submarines’’).

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When they pared down to a duo, losing the bassist and keyboard player behind them, neither of whom was ever introduced, Auerbach and Carney got to the heart of what they do. Oddly, they packed more of a punch when it was just the two of them revisiting their older material (“Thickfreakness,’’ “I’ll Be Your Man’’). Auerbach, in particular, burrowed deep into his solos on “Girl Is on My Mind.’’

Leading the encore, “Everlasting Light’’ was the night’s designated sing-along and, in retrospect, a harbinger of where the band is now. The Black Keys might not have always been bona fide rock stars, but they were waiting in the wings.

Arctic Monkeys weren’t the most obvious choice to open the show, but they had more in common with the headliners than expected. Like the Black Keys, the British quartet prized precision and speed, to the point that its songs have grown much harder and heavier.

Even familiar hits like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’’ landed with a thud, ricocheting off the high ceilings before rumbling in your chest until it felt like cardiac arrest was imminent.

James Reed can be reached at