Award shows often times act as coronations. Last year’s Grammys were all Adele all the time as she walked away with 6 Grammys. Though no one walked away with as many gold gramophones this year, the night made a powerful statement for The Black Keys. The twosome of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney won Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Album and Best Rock song to go along with Auerbach’s solo award for Producer of The Year.
The Black Keys are a paradox in today’s music world. On one hand they are the most commercialized band in the world and on the other they remain true to their roots while maintaining great reverence for their mentors who haven’t been so fortunate.
Few need to be reminded that the music world has experienced significant changes over the recent years. Digital downloads, both legal and illegal, have changed the financial dynamics of being a musician and The Black Keys have been on the cutting edge of dealing with that reality. One of the more profitable means for an artist to achieve financial security is through the selling of ‘syncs.’ It’s the act of artists releasing the rights to their music for commercial use. The Black Keys have been a prime benefactor of this revenue stream and yet they have managed to keep their street cred as few of their fans accuse them of selling out.
In part, it’s due to the band being ever so gracious in recognizing their mentors. They have used the spoils and privileges of their success to reflect the spotlight back on those who they first became smitten with musically. Auerbach’s work with Mac Rebennack comes to mind. Auerbach ‘rescued’ the lost in obscurity Dr. John and made one of the more intriguing albums with 2012’s “Locked Down.” The New Orleans’ musician known as The Night Tripper was a huge influence on Auerbach. Listening to the recording you can hear shades of that influence come bursting through. The album also happened to pick up a Grammy for Rabennack and their dual appearance, along with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, was a Grammy broadcast highlight.
The band has remained true to their classic indie rocker beginnings. Rooted in Ohio, the twosome played gigs locally in Akron and as a two piece drew unfortunate comparisons to The White Stripes. Their 2003 release “Thickfreakness” turned them into something of indie world celebrities, if such an oxymoron exists. Some even contended that Auerbach was the heir apparent to Neil Young’s crown when and if he saw fit to set it down for a moment.
The band’s long rise to prominence was a result of raucous live shows in small clubs that eventually lead them to become mainstays on the festival circuit headlining premiere events like Coachella and Lollapalooza. I was fortunate to catch one of their smaller gigs and found myself transformed with the thunder and lightning of Carney and Auerbach. It was a rock duo like none other.
Today the band finds themselves in an influential role for bands in the future. Their moves on and off the stage are followed by musicians of all types as they try to balance the delicate intersection of commerce and art. They seem to grasp that art comes first but commerce needs to be attended to and if that means my commercial breaks will be enhanced with the bolts of drums from Carney and the flashes of fabulous fretwork by Auerbach, I’m going to be ok with that.