SPAC-bound Black Keys learning to take success in stride

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A lot has happened since The Black Keys were originally slated to come to SPAC in August 2020.

Back then, the blues-rock duo was touring in support of its “Let’s Rock” record. Of course, COVID put the kibosh on that show, but it didn’t slow the duo down. Now the SPAC show is back on for Wednesday, but the Black Keys will be bringing a bunch of new stuff with them.

Last year, the Black Keys released “Delta Kream,” a collection of R.L. Burnside covers. May saw the release of “Dropout Boogie,” a set of original tunes. For singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, recording new music was a crucial piece of making it through a chaotic two-year stretch.

“Reconciling the last two years is impossible for my brain to do,” Carney said. “We were in a unique position; I think about all the bands that were breaking for the first time and all their canceled tours. It derailed so many (expletive) bands. Watching it happen was just brutal.

“I’m grateful we got more music out and weren’t just sitting here doing nothing,” he continued. “I’m excited to go on the road. My son is almost 4 and has no idea what that means. I’ve been a (expletive) hermit. I have a 4-month old daughter, (wife) Michelle (Branch) had a miscarriage before that, so it was basically a year-and-a-half-long pregnancy and we all got COVID last fall. Yeah, music is the least stressful thing in my life; 10 years ago it was the source of all my stress.”

The time Carney is referencing is the “insane period” from 2012-2015, when the Black Keys made the jump to arena rock headliners. They had been around for a decade at that point, touring and recording relentlessly, to the point of burnout. The group kept at it and achieved an unanticipated level of commercial success. Instead of taking a much-needed break, the touring pace remained aggressive and the shows kept getting bigger. For Carney, trying to rationalize the jump in popularity wasn’t easy.

“I look back and it was just a blur, we were watching (2010 album) ‘Brothers’ do way better than anything else we had released and the band’s popularity take off,” he recalled. “We were burned out on that tour and canceled the tour and went into the studio to do ‘El Camino’ and effectively doubled down and became more popular.

“We were poor winners to a certain degree, and I know I didn’t take it that well because this just wasn’t the way it was supposed to be,” Carney added. “We went from playing the Mercury Lounge to headlining Madison Square Garden and for me it was like, ‘Am I worthy of this?’ The way I answered that was, ‘Some of the worst bands in the history of music have played on stage here. If Rusted Root can, so can we.’”

On the flip side of making sense of achieving such a high profile, Carney and Auerbach are fully prepared for that status to eventually change.

“It’s a fine line; alternately you have to be comfortable with your popularity waning,” Carney said. “You can’t be everything to everybody at once.”

Instead of getting hung up on fame, the pair focuses on what brought them together more than 20 years ago: a mutual love of writing and playing music.

Carney and Auerbach grew up in the same neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, and were acquaintances at school. In 1996, they first started playing together and making music, “learning how to get along” with each other over time.

“I spent more time with him than with my family the first couple years of the band,” Carney said. “The hardest part, the thing that kills bands, is when people feel restricted by each other. We learned to lighten up and open up with each other as we found more success.

“We learned to accept the fact that the Dan or Patrick of 2022 are going to have to be different from the versions of 20 years ago,” he continued. “We’re closer than we’ve ever been. We understand that we’re our own people and have that nuance with each other.”

Finding that space as individuals and maintaining their bond has allowed the Black Keys to set boundaries on what the group does and avoid the fatigue that set in during its commercial breakthrough. While they used to hit the road behind an album for lengthy stretches of time, this year’s summer tour for “Dropout Boogie” is only 32 U.S. shows.

The added bonus of limiting how many shows they play is that it makes it easier for the duo to find creative fulfillment and consistently write and record new material.


“We love making music and performing, but we worry about wearing ourselves out. We’ve watched so many bands wear it out,” Carney said. “The integrity of the band in its original form, the chemistry and energy that exists on-stage and on a record, is everything.

“Fleetwood Mac haven’t recorded anything since 1987, but it feels like they’ve gone on tour every summer of my (expletive) life,” he continued. “Dan and I are always trying to consistently make music we think is vital in some way. It’s key for us. Otherwise we’d close up shop.”

 

The Black Keys

with special guests Band of Horses and Ceramic Animal

When: 7 p.m., Wednesday, July 20

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Route 50,


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