Headliners: Dan Auerbach
For a band that got started banging out salt-of-the-earth blues rock with just a guitar, some drums and a microphone, the Black Keys have really broadened their horizons. As if 2008's boundary-breaking Attack and Release wasn't sufficient notice, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney have spent 2009 showing off just how many tricks they have up their sleeves.
"I think that because Pat and I are a duo and that we've worked so hard, been on the road so much - I think sometimes the public just assumes that's all you do," Auerbach said during a recent phone interview. "But it's not. We both have plenty of interests."
They've proved it with a bevy of side projects. The Akron duo collaborated with a murderer's row of rappers for a forthcoming project called Blakroc. Carney rounded up a bunch of fellow percussive types and formed a new group called, naturally, Drummer. And Auerbach welcomed a steady stream of artists into his customized home studio, once known as Akron Analog but recently rechristened Easy Eye Sound.
Then there's that tried and true gesture of creative exploration - the solo album. Auerbach didn't set out to make one, but after recording at his leisure between Black Keys tours over the past couple years, he realized he was just a few songs short of an LP. So he buckled down and emerged with solo debut Keep It Hid. He'll play Newport Music Hall in support of the album next Tuesday.
Keep It Hid is casual and expansive. It doesn't challenge the notion of what an Auerbach song sounds like so much as take each idea to its natural conclusion, from the sentimental strings of acoustic lullaby "When the Night Comes" to the swamp-dragging nastiness of "Heartbroken, In Disrepair."
Yet the album plays out with purpose, sounding distinctly like one man's labor of love. Anyone who likes the Black Keys will love it, and so might folks who find Auerbach's main band too straight and narrow in its approach.
Despite the personal touch, there's a family element at play throughout Keep It Hid - figuratively in the presence of Auerbach protege Jessica Lea Mayfield and literally thanks to the inclusion of Auerbach's Uncle Jim, who flew up from Florida to play on the recording.
"He taught me how to play my first song on guitar," Auerbach said. "He was helping me out when I was 15 years old, showing me chords and stuff. He and the rest of my mom's family - and my dad's record collection - were the inspiration for me getting into music."
Auerbach lovingly remembered bluegrass jams with his mother's family and digging through his dad's Kinks and Captain Beefheart LPs, but he spoke with almost as much reverence about his studio.
"[Keep It Hid] wouldn't have existed if I didn't have my own place," Auerbach said. "When I have free time I can just go right into the studio. I own the nicest studio I've ever been in, basically. I really worked hard in putting it together."
The studio didn't just birth Auerbach's album. It also yielded his backing band. After he recorded Austin rockers Hacienda, Auerbach recruited the kindred spirits to bring his material to life on tour. With My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan behind the kit, they've adopted the name Dan Auerbach and the Fast Five.
Though next week's Newport show kicks off the latest tour, the Fast Five shouldn't have any first-show jitters after backing Auerbach most of this year.
"We've been all over the world," Auerbach said. "We've already played pretty much everywhere except for Asia."
Even on tour, those horizons keep getting broader.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5
Where: Newport Music Hall, Campus