Tuesday night in Hartford was a humid one, the kind of humidity that would fog up a person’s glasses simply leaving an air conditioned car. Even the stage cameras held a layer of fog over every shot that appeared in the venue monitors.
It was the kind of night that wasn’t good for a lot of running around and on stage freakouts. That was just fine for The Black Keys, who made up for the lack of high-pitch theatrics with the precision of a controlled demolition.
The band moved deliberately through their set, first assembling it brick by brick before knocking them down with blasts of fuzzed out blues riffs and the timed explosions of crashing drums.
A large portion of their songs came from the more recent era of the band’s decade-old catalogue, with plenty of hits off 2011′s “El Camino” and 2010′s “Brothers.” The Keys opened with a smooth “Howlin’ For You” before going into “Next Girl,” and “Run Right Back.”
The guitar / vocal and drum duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were joined for most of the set by touring musicians Gus Seyffert on bass and John Wood on synth. After performing their infectious “Gold on the Ceiling,” Auerbach told the audience “We’re going to play a few songs, just the two of us,” before going into a few older tracks that included “Your Touch” off the 2006 album “Magic Potion.”
The backing artists returned for “Little Black Submarines” and “Money Maker,” but Wood got his best workout with the thick Hammond organ sound on “Ten Cent Pistol.” The regular set closed with “Lonely Boy,” which had the crowd emulating the dancing of the song’s viral music video.
The Black Keys’s stage set was plainly industrial, with dozens of lights mounted on a framework of pipes. It was the kind of factory-chic you’d expect shopping at Restoration Hardware, that is, until a massive disco ball descended during their first encore song of “Everlasting Light.”
Early on it seemed the school night’s concert turnout would be less than expected, despite being the Black Keys’s only New England show this summer. Openers The Joy Formidable, whose rock-synth songcraft is already heavy on the reverb, suffered from an over the top echo from the empty seats in the pavilion. By the time the Keys hit the stage the pavilion was packed, with a few thousand more on the lawn.
It’s really too bad, as Joy Formidable still put on a strong set (the Welsh group also played their own headlining show at Toad’s Place last month). Closing with their powerful “Whirring,” bassist Rydian Dafydd was kneeling on the ground wailing on his instrument while drums punched through the swelling sea of reverb. Frontwoman Ritzy Bryan jumped off stage into the crowd for a bit before a gong crash gave out, and the band walked off stage leaving the audience with one luscious feedbacking note.