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Analyzing the Black Keys' 'Lonely Boy' video

March 19, 2012|By Kyle Kramer For RedEye

When the Black Keys released "El Camino" in December, the band made a video for its lead single, "Lonely Boy." Unfortunately, the band hated it but liked some of the footage: a single shot of an extra, Derrick T. Tuggle, performing a dance he had created for the song. It was so good the band decided to release it as the actual video. Tuggle's dance is amazing, and made the video a viral hit. Through careful analysis, the video reveals everything you need to know about the Black Keys before they play the United Center Monday.


Tuggle's understated opening provides a fitting introduction to an aggressively low-key band. There are only two members of the Black Keys, and they're the type of unassuming pair you'll find posted up at any given dive bar. Patrick Carney (the tall one on drums) wears slightly oversized Buddy Holly glasses and Dan Auerbach (the bearded one on guitar and vocals) sports a wardrobe that tends to favor jean jackets.

THE "CARLTON" (0:18)

The use, here, of the "Carlton" is a prudent allusion to the similarity between the Black Keys and "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air." The Black Keys, born and raised in Akron, Ohio, used to spend most of their days playing music in Carney's basement. These days you can catch them drinking orange juice out of the proverbial champagne glass as actual entertainment industry successes, living and recording in Nashville. Like Carlton, however, they still tend to insist that they are not very cool.


This hand gesture is clearly meant to encapsulate the significance of the Black Keys' stature as a group. Despite their pronounced indie origins playing to small audiences and being pegged as part of the grouped with bands like The White Stripes as part of an early 2000s garage rock revival, the Black Keys have outlasted many of their peers and are now playing arenas. Their last album, "Brothers," went platinum, and their most recent album, "El Camino," has gone gold. Plus, they've won three Grammys. As far as indie band stature goes, the Black Keys are about as high as Tuggle's outstretched hand.


Is there any poetry more profound than the way Tuggle reaches to his breast and removes its symbolic heart? Truly, He suggests love can be a violent process. This, incidentally, is the message of another popular Black Keys video, "Tighten Up," which won them an MTV Video Music Award. In a hilariously heart-ripping-out-worthy mistake, the award was a trophy that credited their song to the Black Eyed Peas. The band posted a photo of the award on their Web site, commenting, "We are super proud of Fergie!!!" The lesson being: if you bought tickets to the United Center show expecting the Black Eyed Peas, you are not the first to make this mistake.

"ANY OLD TIME" (1:01)

Tuggle's artful portrayal of questioning time is a valuable exploration of the role time plays on the Black Keys' music. Which is: not much. The music, although contemporary, feels rather timeless. Heavily influenced by Delta blues, rockabilly and early punk, the Black Keys have a sound that is stripped-down, brash and totally familiar. You've probably heard one of their songs and assumed it was something far older.


The cradling image projected in this move is a warm tribute to the Black Keys' recording processes, which help nurture distinct sounds on their records. Many of their albums have a distinct recording mythology: "Thickfreakness" was recorded in one session on a tape recorder in Carney's basement while "Rubber Factory" was recorded in an abandoned tire factory in Akron. "Brothers" was the product of a boredom-filled trip to the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.


As Tuggle points to the background, he asks his audience to imagine departing the familiar sphere of the Black Keys oeuvre. As it turns out, the Black Keys have, themselves, asked much the same thing with their side projects. Auerbach produces music at his Nashville studio called Easy Eye Sound. He has credited his production style to The RZA, with whom, incidentally, the Black Keys were able to work during their 2009 collaborative hip-hop project Blakroc. In addition to The RZA, the album featured rappers such as Mos Def, Pharoahe Monche and Jim Jones.


Here, Tuggle stands triumphant, a reminder of the Black Keys' presence: a scrappy indie duo that might just provide rock with the type of likeable stars it needs to remain a viable genre.


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