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The Black Keys Bring Blues-Rock to Madison Square Garden

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After 11 years and seven albums, it's nice to see that the world has finally realized that The Black Keys are worth appreciating. Their Thursday night show at Madison Square Garden -- the last of two sold-out nights at MSG -- was like a victory lap for the Akron, Ohio duo.

The Black Keys -- comprised of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney -- brought their grit 'n' stomp rock to a packed arena, managing to fill the space with their own brand of bluesy rock without any bells and whistles or unnecessary cheap tricks. It was almost like they couldn't see the flashing lights, or didn't really care. They were there to play some music -- and play they did.

Storming the stage with a few extra hands -- bassist Gus Seyffert and keyboardist John Wood -- The Black Keys kicked off the night with some of their newer tracks.

The band opens with their hit single "Howlin' For You," off their Grammy-winning 2010 LP Brothers, much to the crowd's delight. Their sexy southern swagger is on full blast by the time they roll into "Next Girl," a bluesy lament of heartbreak, and by the time they play their latest single, "Gold On The Ceiling," off 2011's El Camino, it's like we're watching the little-garage-band-that-could finally reap the rewards of 11 years of hard work.

It was at this point that the band shed their two hired hands and got back to their roots, with "Girl Is On My Mind" from 2004's Rubber Factory. Seeing just the two of them on stage was definitely the highlight of the night, and clearly emotional one for the band, who just a few years ago had yet to have a hit and now had found themselves selling out MSG.

Yet, as they paid tribute to their 2002 debut, The Big Come Up, with the near-perfect cadence of "I'll Be Your Man," it looked like that was probably the furthest thing on their minds. They were just two scruffy friends, there to jam. Nothing else.

After returning to the bare bones blues of yesteryear, with the likes of self-described "oldies but goodies," "Thickfreakness" and "Your Touch," Auerbach pulled off some of his best fretwork of the night. A giant video backdrop showed animated graphics and old black-and-white road trip footage that looked as if Jack Kerouac shot it himself while on the road.

And although drummer Carney never took a single drum solo throughout the night, every time the spotlight happened to shine on him, hunching over his drum set, the crowd went wild.

The duo's pace was furious and unyielding, and it all reached its peak when Auerbach's infamous whistling began and the riffs to "Tighten Up" started to play. The band closed out the night with a rousing singalong of El Camino lead single "Lonely Boy."

Within a few minutes -- and after some deafening stomping from the crowd -- the Keys returned for a three-song encore. Not one, but two giant disco balls were lowered during "Everlasting Light," a low tempo tune that has Auerbach using his characteristic falsetto to perfection.

Of course, it didn't take long before the duo spun back into their grit 'n' stomp roots, heavy-rifting through "She's Long Gone" before closing the night with the "oldie but goodie," "I Got Mine."

UK rockers Arctic Monkeys opened for The Keys, bringing a new wave of adrenaline during their hour-long set. It was a frantic set, as the band kicked things off with the speed-punk song "Brainstorm," from 2007's Favourite Worst Nightmare.

Frontman Alex Turner has grown from a shaggy-haired boy from Sheffield into a man sporting a Rockabilly quiff and a well-placed grimace. And even though newer tracks like "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" don't quite compare to the more cryptic, sometimes cynical messages of songs like "View From The Afternoon" and "Fluorescent Adolescent," the introspective observations are still there.

The boys from Sheffield opened the night with pure, high-power adrenaline, bring the "ruckus" that they promised. By the time The Black Keys took the stage, they brought the slow burn of pure rock 'n' roll with them, topping off the Arctic Monkeys' sharp adrenaline with their uncouth knack for bluesy riffs.

Well, it's as close to blues as two white boys from Ohio are going to get -- and it's remarkably close.