The Black Keys bring the hits, and Modest Mouse skips 'Float On,' at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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As far as arena rock comebacks go, the Black Keys, who played Fiserv Forum Friday, are as low-key as they come. 

They didn’t hijack pop culture and do an Amazon documentary like the Jonas Brothers, who played the Milwaukee arena last month. And they aren’t back together after a nasty feud like Heart, who play Fiserv Forum next week. 

Instead, a road-weary singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney took a break in 2015 — unsure, Carney has said, if they would get back together. They did this year, but even the post-hiatus album's title, "Let's Rock," is modestly phrased. 

It lives up to the title, though, and the Black Keys certainly rocked at Fiserv Forum Friday with their deceitfully simple blues-rock sound.  

The Black Keys perform at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Oct. 4, 2019.

Auerbach was backed by two other guitarists Friday, but their job was to fill out the sound while Auerbach strutted his stuff. Practically each of the 21 songs across the 85-minute set came with a flashy guitar solo, but aside from a slightly drawn-out "Ten Cent Pistol," Auerbach never succumbed to song-swallowing showboating. The small gestures were as riveting as the rip-roaring riffing — the way he played the closing lines of "Tighten Up" with wavy, psychedelic flair or threw out a jittery note on throwback track "Thickfreakness" as if his guitar had been struck by a cattle prod. 

Frequently exhaling and puffing out his cheeks like an Olympian at his crucial moment, Carney whacked the drums with thunderous force. There wasn't a ton of obvious interplay with Auerbach, who, aside from a few glances toward the drums and an occasional stroll Carney's way, largely kept to himself stage left, lost in his playing.

But Carney was just as crucial to the show's swagger, largely complementary to Auerbach, but at times, providing a nice contrast. Near the end of "Your Touch," Carney's drums dropped out and Auerbach's guitar suddenly slowed, the riff running through molasses, before Carney roared back in with a wallop.

This was a rollicking rock show, but the Black Keys brought some soul, too, for celestial love songs "Walk Across the Water" — one of the more subtle tracks on "Let's Rock," but also one of the strongest — followed by "Everlasting Light."

And slow-burner "Little Black Submarines" was the night's highlight, with Auerbach offering more intricacy on acoustic guitar on the live rendition, before trading it for an electric guitar for the rousing finish. 

The Black Keys didn't make a massive fuss when they returned. They didn't make an album that sounded drastically different from "Brothers," "El Camino" or "Turn Blue." But for a band that's often done more with less, and always stayed true to themselves, it was for the best.

Black Keys fans at Fiserv Forum got the best kind of comeback in the end: They got to see a band that was just as good as they remembered. 

Modest Mouse, Jessy Wilson open

Modest Mouse opens for the Black Keys at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Oct. 4, 2019.

Modest Mouse played for an hour opening for the Black Keys Friday — and they didn’t even play “Float On.” And when they did play a signature single — “Lampshades on Fire,” from their most recent album “Strangers To Ourselves” (four years old now) — the rushed live rendition was absent the recording’s ebb and flow and nuance, despite the presence of nine musicians. 

They may not have cared to play some key hits, but you couldn’t say that Modest Mouse didn’t care. Even older material felt fresh Friday, with significant thanks to eclectic and electric frontman Isaac Brock, who traded Appalachian banjo picking for grunge-flavored guitar distortion and went from muted mumbles to biting barks seemingly at whim. 

Jessy Wilson had a good thing going with soulful folk group Muddy Magnolias until it  disbanded a few years after getting off the ground. She’s primed for her second act as a solo artist, passionately belting tunes Friday from her new album “Phase” produced by the Black Keys’ Carney. Pity that the arena was largely empty when she took the stage, but she performed like the place was packed.

Jessy Wilson opens for the Black Keys at Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum on Oct. 4, 2019.

The Takeaways 

  • It was a pretty modest stage setup for an arena show, but it was pretty extravagant for the Black Keys, with LED columns suspended above the stage, a winged wall of lights hugging the stage and a large framed circular screen that projected filtered, overlapping footage of the show and other clips. And a 12-foot-tall electric chair popped up for “Lo/Hi” and “Go” during the encore, a nod to the "Let's Rock" album art. 
  • One of the best parts of the Black Keys’ past tours was when just Carney and Auerbach would jam together. No such luck Friday. 

The set list 

1. "I Got Mine"

2. "Eagle Birds"

3. "Tell Me Lies"

4. "Gold on the Ceiling"

5. "Fever"

6. "Next Girl"

7. "Fire Walk With Me"

8. "Walk Across The Water"

9. "Everlasting Light"

10. "Howlin' For You"

11. "10 A.M. Automatic"

12. "Your Touch"

13. "Strange Times"

14. "Tighten Up"

15. "Thickfreakness"

16. "Ten Cent Pistol"

17. "Little Black Submarines"

18. "Lonely Boy"


19. "Lo/Hi"

20. "Go"

21. "She's Long Gone"

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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.

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