BY JONATHAN VALANIA The Black Keys are two kids from Akron, Ohio who went down to the big rock show and never came back. When a couple seats on the other side of the velvet rope opened up, they snuck in and sat down. So far nobody’s asked them to leave, in fact they’ve been downright hospitable. The new, uber-catchy El Camino sold 206,000 units the first week out of the gate, went gold shortly thereafter and is currently on its way to platinum. To ensure that it gets there and then some the Keys have booked a yearlong tour. For the American leg of the tour — which crests early with a headlining slot at Coachella along with co-headliners, Radiohead, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog — they are playing arenas, and early sales indicate they are having no problem putting asses in seats. They sold out Madison Square Gardens in 15 minutes. Likewise the European legs are doing big box office with the Keys selling 27,000 tickets in London alone.
All of this talk of the show biz high life seems shockingly incongruent with our current environs, a shitty little hole in the wall diner in Nashville called Browns, complete with emphysemic waitress and cuisine that can only be described as school cafeteria-rific. To be clear, the diner was actual Plan C for the locus of Magnet’s initial rendezvous with the Keys, the first being a band-selected Korean restaurant called Manna that, for reasons unclear, decided to close on the mid-January Saturday we planned to meet there for lunch, and Plan B was the hipster-friendly Up Burger, which proved too noisy and crowded for recording a cover story interview.
Carney is fine with the downmarket menu, he says, this way he won’t be tempted to break his pre-touring season cleanse, for which he has given up carbs, fats, booze, caffeine and fun of just about ever stripe aside from Camel Lights for which he has graciously made an exception. Collapsing his sturdy 6’4 frame into diner booth, Drummer Patrick Carney sits high in the saddle, dressed in a crisp baby blue oxford shirt under a Navy Pea Coat and his trademark black Buddy Holly Ray-Bans. He is intense, a little suspicious and seems slightly pre-occupied with matters far removed from the moment. By contrast, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, bearded and rocking a sharp blue denim and rust-tone suede combo, seems preternaturally chill, elbow on the table, his head tilted to the side and resting on his fist. His large, round eyes faintly ringed with circles and tinged with the late afternoon lethargy of an early riser such as himself.
Where Auerbach is reserved, Carney tends to speak his mind, consequences be damned, and there have been consequences. Dissing Nickelback in a recent Rolling Stone cover story caused a minor Internet kerfuffle. “I didn’t mean to piss off anybody but, you know, it shouldn’t be coming as a surprise that Dan and I don’t listen to Nickelback,” he says with a shrug. But what if you run into those guys on the road, Magnet wonders aloud, and they want to rumble? There’s four of them and only two of you. “Whatever, I’m sure their girlfriends could beat me up,” says Carney waving away the topic like an errant gnat. MORE
THE BLACK KEYS: Lonely Boy
The Black Keys play a sold out show at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.