Inside Dan Auerbach's Own Rolling Thunder Revue

The guitarist has gathered legendary session players and an overlooked R&B powerhouse for a wild tour

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach takes us inside Easy Eye Sound Revue, a wild tour featuring legendary session players and an overlooked R&B powerhouse. Credit: Koury Angelo for Rolling Stone

Dan Auerbach can't even make it to the dressing room before he has to stop to talk about the gig he just played. "This is the most fun I've had onstage," he says, beaming in the hallway of Seattle's Showbox nightclub as roadies navigate around him. "This band, these players, these legends – this is exactly why I love music."

He's talking about his Easy Eye Sound Revue, which kicks off its second leg Thursday at Washington D.C.'s 9:30 Club and runs through April 5th. The tour is named after Auerbach's Nashville studio, where he has been making music with longtime session pros like drummer Gene Chrisman and keyboardist Bobby Wood since the Black Keys went on hiatus in 2014. "These guys played with Elvis, and were on 'Son of a Preacher Man,'"  Auerbach says. Those players take the music from his 2017 album, Waiting on a Song, to new heights live, performing explosive versions of tracks like "Stand By My Girl" and "Cherrybomb," a dark, Grateful Dead–style jam. "There was no Auto-Tune or gimmickry on [Waiting on a Song]," Auerbach says. "We were trying to capture a lost art in a way, a way they used to do it." This tour is mostly an acoustic affair, and Auerbach's vocals on songs like "Malibu Man" (an ode to Rick Rubin) are more plaintive than his Black Keys work.

Auerbach says the revue is an attempt to recapture a time when soul and R&B were both being recorded in Nashville, and genre lines were being blurred. It's also a chance to showcase new music; Auerbach has brought along Shannon and the Clams, a band he first heard at a record shop, and eventually signed, producing their new album Onion. "The singing was so fantastic," he says of the blend between singers Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard. "I kept mixing up who was who because they have such a similar vocal range. ... That's very unique for a band." There are guests – Beck showed up in L.A. to sing Presley's "In the Ghetto" (which Chrisman and Wood played on); Keys drummer Patrick Carney took part in an encore jam in Nashville a few nights later, backing 64-year-old Robert Finley.

Finley has quickly become the star of the tour. He worked as a carpenter in Louisiana until three years ago, when he started going blind. He was performing on the street when he was discovered by the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Auerbach produced and co-wrote Finley's new album, Goin' Platinum!, and tonight Finley riled up the crowd with showstoppers like "Medicine Woman," which could have been an Isaac Hayes song, and "Holy Wine," which was pure Sam Cooke–era gospel. "Robert is simply the greatest soul singer I've ever seen in person," Auerbach says. The affection between the two men is obvious. "When he walked in the studio with his smile, and that voice, I knew he was something," Auerbach says. "Robert has a fire and a yearning in his voice, plus he wants to be heard."

Backstage, Finley says he was previously unfamiliar with Auerbach, "but I do know Dan now, and every day I thank God for what he has done for me." Finley will turn 64 the day after the Seattle show, an anniversary he'd forgotten until being asked his birthday. Auerbach laughs. "Every day around Robert is a celebration," he says.

Finley is holding a bin that previously contained copies of Goin' Platinum – he has sold out of them for the third night in a row. "Everybody seems to know Robert is the real deal," Auerbach says, adding, "These kids are starved for the real thing."