The Black Keys, one of the largest rock bands in the world, just playing two back-to-back sold out arena-sized shows at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Just prior to their huge shows, the blues-driven buddies from Akron, Ohio entertained an intimate audience with their sultry rock riffs on songs like “Howlin’ For You,” “Lonely Boy,” and “Gold On The Ceiling” and their sardonic repartee for Breakfast with Kevin & Bean.
Although the pair have won GRAMMY Awards and performed with some of the hugest names in music, the Black Keys don’t really care how big the space they play is; it’s the excitement of the audience that counts.
Drummer Pat Carney jokes that he’s excited to play Chili’s–the band are playing their first gigs “south of the Border” including Lollapalooza Chile and Brazil–and that he’s also playing a “Staples and an Office Max next week.” When an audience member asked him what his favorite show has been, frontman Dan Auerbach said that they had just played their “best show ever” in Portland, Maine where the audience went “ape bananas.”
Much of the Black Keys’ attitude can probably be attributed to their years of just being a small, marginally-popular “indie” band. They had an underground cult following and might have heard their songs on radio stations in places like rural Oregon, but the Black Keys didn’t reach widespread popularity until the middle of their career.
Auerbach told a story about how their first show they only got paid ten bucks; a second show was requested at the same place, but for that they got nothing. The band joked how a rental house they recorded in is worth less now, and how their El Camino– is the basis for the cover and title art of their latest album–racked up massive mileage and was basically their hotel room.
When it was given away, the El Camino had about 178,000 miles on it with over 100,000 of those miles being the product of year and a half of touring on the Black Keys’ part. They’d take Carney’s underage brother on the road with them and he’d hang out “outside places like the Casbah and got made fun of in San Diego.”
“Pat’s brother would come along with us to not help us at all,” laughed Auerbach dryly, recalling how most of the time it was just them. “The van was the hotel room. We’d sleep in rest areas which are awesome…Just two dudes hanging out in rest areas in the middle of the night.”
Auerbach then made Carney tell a story about an instance that “Pat got really scared one time going into the bathroom.”
“My brother Mike and I actually walked in and Dan was asleep,” said the recent newlywed who had his wedding officiated by Will Forte aka MacGruber. “There was a guy walking out who looked really kind of scary and there was a guy in there with his pants down crying.
“You asked, I told you,” replied the drummer when the audience cringed. Carney, almost as infamous for his hilariously absurd tweets as he is for his masterful drumming, had a lot of random zingers through the Breakfast with Kevin and Bean.
When the radio hosts joked that the band “can’t expect success with the kind of music they play,” Carney countered back with, “I don’t understand what’s not commercial about our piano-driven Christmas music.” When someone asked the band what it was like to work with Danger Mouse and it was mentioned that they might be working on the next album with him, Carney blurted out, “Deadmau5?” And when an audience member asked him if his make-believe son really smells like ranch dressing, Carney replied, “My whole family smells like ranch dressing.”
When Kevin & Bean asked the Black Keys what it was like to perform with Neil Young, they first said it was surreal but Auerbach confessed that Neil Young told the band that they sounded good–from his hotel room. The aging musician never watched their show, but he did invite the pair onstage with him for an encore of “Rockin’ In The Free World” where Young stepped on Auerbach’s foot while he was soloing.
“He had tennis shoes on, it didn’t hurt,” quipped Auerbach. Carney joked that while they were playing he was downtown with Cocoon star Wilford Brimley.
Although the Black Keys presumably joked about wanting to meet Jared from the Subway commercials and hating Michael Buble, they admitted that they have to get serious when it comes to writing new material for an album–even if it only takes them a day to record sometimes. Their usual producer, Danger Mouse, is tied up right now so they are starting their album on their own to see what comes of it.
“Just kind of see what we come up with just the two of us,” said Carney who then went on to joke that while it only takes them a day to record a song, it takes “5 days for their engineer to autotune it.”
When Kevin and Bean expressed their shock at the rapid-fire writing process, Auerbach retorted that the Sonics “recorded their records in a day,” pointing to Bean’s shirt with the name of the old band. However, for the songwriting process, their “brains kind of shut down” on tour.
“We have to plan for it and really block out some time,” said Auerbach. “We can’t practice…a lot of people we hear write when they’re doing soundcheck and stuff but we can’t do that. We like to be completely isolated. We just don’t like messing up in front of people.”
“It’s also really emotional for us when we’re writing music. There’s a lot of Kleenex,” joked Carney. “It looks like I’m sweating, but this is not sweat, it’s tears.”
Tears of psychological torture; tears from years of hard work; most likely, tears of laughter. Whatever emotion the Black Keys evokes gets fed right back into their music and gushes forth onto the stage. So keep the tears coming boys, whatever form they’re in, and the world will keep listening.
Click the image below to watch highlights from the show, including full performances of “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ For You.”
–Nadia Noir, KROQ Los Angeles