The Black Keys ‘Boogie’ their way back to the beginning
This year not only marks the 20th roundabout of their quiet debut “The Big Come Up,” but also follows the recent 10-year milestone of “El Camino.”
There comes a point in every band’s career where they reach what is called the “anniversary stage.” For The Black Keys, their time is now.
This year not only marks the 20th roundabout of their quiet debut “The Big Come Up,” but also follows the recent 10-year milestone for one of their most commercially successful releases to date, “El Camino,” the Grammy-winning feast featuring “Lonely Boy” and “Gold On the Ceiling.”
Though, the band isn’t exactly throwing a party.
“I was telling our manager maybe we shouldn’t emphasize we have been a band so long because people will think we’re old,” says drummer Patrick Carney in a beguiling deadpan tone while chatting about The Black Keys and their current tour, arriving at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre on July 17.
The Black Keys
When: 7 p.m. July 17
Where: Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, 19100 S. Ridgeland Ave, Tinley Park
Along with his cohort, guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach, the two childhood friends formed the act in the sleepy Rubber City hub of Akron, Ohio (continuing on the origin stories of Chrissie Hynde and Devo), around the time of a sweeping garage rock revival in the early 2000s.
The duo was full of gritty amplified power, dive bar charm, slick riffs and a mutual respect for one-track-takes that drew in crows clamoring for real salt of the earth rock and roll. And though they’ve leveled up in recent decades — signing Irving Azoff as their manager, working with influential indie producer Danger Mouse on several albums and with Carney and Auerbach each becoming in-demand producers themselves (aiding in the material of bands like The Pretenders, Lana Del Rey and Carney’s wife Michelle Branch) on their latest material — The Black Keys have shown a real return to their analog days.
The most recent one-two punch — 2021’s “Delta Kream” (featuring covers of their favorite hill country blues songs) and this year’s original recording “Dropout Boogie” (released in May on Nonesuch Records) — harkens back to the beginning of The Black Keys 20 years ago, earmarked by a simpler way of making music, a process one-accomplished in their basements.
“The making of ‘Delta Kream’ kind of set the ball in motion, where we started realizing that sometimes the best stuff we do is the stuff that comes the easiest, and we don’t need to force it,” Carney reveals. “There’s about a third of the record that’s first takes, jams, improvised music. And I guess that’s how the band’s always been or what we’ve been interested in. We never really emphasized wanting to get something perfect; the perfect take for us isn’t so much about performance but is about that feeling within the song. And I think that’s what this latest record ‘Dropout Boogie’ was.”
In particular, Carney points to the rollicking number “Good Love,” featuring ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, as one that “summarizes the band.” As Carney shares, “There was this pressure maybe with Billy being there, jamming with a legendary rock musician, and not just jamming but improvising and creating something from nothing. I just think our heads have been in that space. … And it’s maybe a little bit more unique than we have always given ourselves credit for.”
The 10 tracks on “Dropout Boogie” not only pay homage to great slingers of the blues and early roots music but also fit in with the greater current social aesthetic that is rediscovering classic rock and finding a new appreciation for vinyl. And for Carney, who said he once suffered an “existential crisis” when he was 16 working at Akron’s Mustard Seed health food store surrounded by corporations like McDonald’s and vacant historical buildings that once housed the arts, he has hopes it’ll stick.
“If there’s going to be a rock revival, I think that’s going to be good for everybody,” he says. “I like the idea that people can buy a laptop and make a record by themselves in their bedroom, I love that. But I hate the fact that when you make something like that, you’re usually working with a program that eliminates all nuance.” The former host of a show called “High Standards Music Corner” on Vice adds, “My judgey hipster thing is if someone doesn’t have a strong point of view musically and their own taste, then I do probably think less of them.”
He speaks from experience. Carney and Auerbach were the only kids in the neighborhood listening to R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (who they pay homage in an astute way on “Delta Kream”) when they decided to create their own sound.
“It’s a very specific type of music that really inspired Dan and I and bonded us. If it weren’t for that, we probably would not have started the band.”
For Carney, his hope is that people now listening to The Black Keys might then also be inspired to find their way back to the greats.
As he says, “Maybe someone that hears ‘Lonely Boy’ gets into the band and starts understanding that music a little bit. That’s kind of the hope.”