The Black Keys – Introductory Page

 

The Black Keys

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Akron, Ohio is known for two things: rubber and Lebron James. They also have a minor league baseball team and, allegedly, if boastful signs in restaurant windows are to be believed, really good burgers. That’s more than a lot of towns can say for themselves, though, like so many formerly thriving capitals of American industry, Akron has undoubtedly seen better days. It was once the rubber capital of the world, with Firestone and Goodyear and all the biggest tire manufacturers making it the center of their operations. But they inevitably went through the all-too familiar ritual of outsourcing and layoffs and shutdowns by 20th Century’s end, leaving Akron saddled with a gigantic abandoned rubber factory and yet another bittersweet Rust Belt industrial legacy. Seriously, that town must have some severe abandonment issues after the tire industry’s decline and Lebron’s punk-ass flight down to Miami to carry Dewyane Wade’s jockstrap – and what’s really sad is that I’m pretty sure the latter had a far more adverse effect on Ohioans’ general morale than the former. What a douche.

But if Akron now produces less rubber than it used to, it now produces a far higher magnitude of rock than ever before, thanks to the Black Keys, who emerged from the primordial swamp of their drummer’s basement to inexplicably become Grammy winners and something resembling a popular rock band.

Comprised of childhood friends turned high school acquaintances turned bandmates guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, the fact that the Black Keys are a guitar/drums duo that plays/played “raw” blues-influenced rock and emerged in the early 2000’s made it inevitable every critic and their sister could hardly wait to compare them to the White Stripes (or, rather, the White Stripes with a good drummer). OK, sure, both bands did start off their careers in a similar fashion, slinging out riffs baldly stolen from Robert Johnson, R.L. Burnside, et. al., and recasting them as sloppy, charmingly amateurish garage rock. But there are differences. Auerbach kicks Jack White’s ass at growing facial hair, for one. And Meg White has bigger boobs than Pat Carney… though Patrick has, bigger, um, glasses.

In all seriousness, though, if the Keys hadn’t branched out from the seeming blues rock purism of the first half of their thus far stellar career, few people would still be talking about them – including me. And from that branching out we have learned that said purism came mostly from fans rather than the band itself, who liked them because they were “stripped down” and were obviously familiar with your favorite played-to-death classic rock hits, rather than because they wrote cool songs that would sound good whether they were played by two guys in a basement or produced by George Martin. It’s telling that many of those fans have wrinkled their noses at the band’s more recent output, which has delved into influences as disparate as arena rock riffage, Muscle Shoals soul and straight up hip-hop (seriously, they did a hip-hop album, a classic rock head’s worst nightmare!), because well, how dare they play with a bass player! That’s blasphemy, I tell you! BLASPHEMY!

But man, when it comes down to it, Auerbach’s delta blues-derived guitar work is tops. That thick, meaty, searing and guttural tone on the band’s early records is a blues rock player’s wet dream, while his branching out to different styles as proven him to be one of the most talented guitarists around today. He has also morphed into an impressively soulful singer, though I certainly didn’t mind the days when he sang like an unintelligible 70-year old black man. Carney, for his part, gets points for being a good drummer, an extremely hilarious dude, and, by looks alone, the person you would probably vote least likely to be in a rock band in high school.

Oh yeah, they live in Nashville now, but who’s keeping track? Their natural habitat will always be a dingy basement in Akron, Ohio.



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