The answer came Thursday night, when the Black Keys played an impressive, 21-song headlining set at the Royal Farms Arena. Carney's drum riser was shoved up to the front of the stage, right next to Auerbach and his amps. Carney, who is as unusually tall as his partner is unusually short, wore black-frame glasses and shaggy hair as he pummeled his glittery, rainbow-striped drums with all the physical force of his garage-punk adolescence.
If you paid attention, you soon realized that Carney refused to be a slave to the snare-and-hi-hat patterns that have become the most tiresome cliché in rock. He worked the entire kit, using the tom-toms and other cymbals to imply a distinctive melody. Because the toms have a deeper, less metallic sound than the snare and a higher pitch than the kick drum, Carney had a broader palette to work with, and he used it inventively. Like Ringo Starr, Carney doesn't have the finesse of a jazz drummer but does know how to get enough different sounds out of the trap drums to make a rock 'n' roll song even catchier.
When he joined tour musician Richard Smith for an unaccompanied drum-and-bass duet on 'Nova Baby,' for example, the song's catchy riff didn't disappear, merely dropped down in register. On 'Lonely Boy,' Carney played a stuttering pattern on the verses, and when he switched to straight time on the chorus, it felt like all that tension was suddenly released. On 'Fever,' it was Carney who stated the main melodic theme on the drums before the other musicians picked it up.
Between them, Auerbach and Carney created enough rhythm and riffs to make their post-Stones blues rock work without any help. Where the additional tour musicians (Smith and keyboardist/guitarist Johnny Wood) proved invaluable was on the vocals. To hear those three-part harmonies on great rock singles such as 'Gotta Get Away' and 'Gold on the Ceiling' was to hear 21st-century roots rock as pleasurable as any from the previous century.