The Black Keys
March 12th, 2012
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY
This is pretty mind-blowing," frontman Dan Auerbach told 15,000 fans toward the end of the Black Keys' sold-out show at New York's Madison Square Garden on March 12th. "Thanks for sharing it with us." Then he kicked into 2010's "Tighten Up," unleashing a monster riff over drummer Patrick Carney's airtight groove. "For months, the show was all anybody wanted to talk to me about," Carney says. "I got a little freaked out." Adds Auerbach, "Pat said it: We're not the kind of band this happens to. It's insane."
A night earlier, at an East Village restaurant, Nonesuch Records execs presented the duo with a platinum record for 2010's Brothers and a gold plaque for this year's El Camino. "I never thought we'd ever get a platinum album," Carney says. "They tried to surprise us – I knew it was coming, though, because I pay attention to that shit."
The Keys' first-ever North American arena tour, which kicked off March 2nd in Cincinnati, is their reward for a decade on the road. "We operated at a comfort level for a long time," says Carney. "But before Brothers, we decided to work more – that's when we started getting successful." They've sold out 16 of 38 dates so far; later this year, they'll hit Europe, Australia, Japan and South America, before finally heading home in 2013.
The Keys have amped up the spectacle for the larger rooms, with a pair of massive mirror balls (the big one weighs 600 pounds) and five huge screens that mix live footage with images of the Rust Belt and trippy pop art, compiled by director Karl Lemieux. "It's a bigger version of what we've been using lately," says Auerbach. "Nothing too obscene."
At the Garden, the band blasted through 21 songs in 90 minutes, splitting the bulk of the set between El Camino and Brothers with two backing players. But the night peaked when the Keys stripped down to their original duo format for early classics like the soulful 2002 cut "I'll Be Your Man" and 2003's raw, fuzzed-out "Thickfreakness." "We've probably played 'Thickfreakness' at every show since late fall 2002," says Carney. "So we've played it, like, 700 times in front of people. I don't worry about the playing at all."
The Keys plan to switch up their set lists even more when they headline Night One of this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 13th – likely bringing back rarely played cuts such as the frantic "Busted," from their 2002 debut, and the slide-driven tune "Stack Shot Billy," from 2004's Rubber Factory.
There's new music on the horizon, too. "We're going to go into the studio in July and start working," says Carney. "But we've got, like, another eight weeks until we have a real significant break. And for the first few weeks of that, we're just going to be hibernating, I'm sure."
This story is from the April 12th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.