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We hate it when our bands become successful

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 10:35 09/11/2012

I would never have thought that a Mumford & Sons gig would be the best show I’d go to in a week where I’d also be seeing Ben Harper and The Black Keys. Well, Mumford/Harper, that’s a toss-up (or off?) But I expected more from The Black Keys. On one level I got it. I’m far more of a fan of The Black Keys than I am of Mumford but I was impressed with the singing from the Mumford & Sons live. I still think the songs are a bit silly, very samey and it’s all power-strum stuff: folk music being forced to do sit-ups. Band meme

The Black Keys on the other hand – well they exist in a strange space now. What I always loved about seeing The Black Keys and hearing them was the conversation between Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. Both are great musicians and both are – at the same time – the best thing about The Black Keys. It’s teamwork. Patrick has got Dan’s back. And Dan has Patrick’s back. And they talk to one another through the music. There is nothing original about the music the duo concocts but they do it well and at times it is a ferocious sound. But also it can be a soulful sound. There was subtlety there. Once.

Now it’s a four-piece band doing its best to keep up with being pop stars (or sorts) while it lasts.

Here’s my review of The Black Keys’ Wellington performance from Monday night.

I felt quite sad writing about breaking up with the band. That’s how I put it. That’s what it felt like. And of course I was accused of being a hipster, or of wanting to be one. I was accused of walking out on the band because they’d become famous – I liked their old stuff way better than their new stuff apparently.

And while it’s true that the first three Black Keys albums were favourites for me I still really like Brothers and I in no way hate El Camino. In fact those first three albums, good as they were for me in terms of giving me a band that was very dependable, don’t get a lot of listening time any more. Brothers is the one. And Auerbach’s solo album and the Dr. John album he played on and produced. And the band’s EP of Junior Kimbrough material.

CoolI walk away from The Black Keys for now, for a little while. Or maybe for a long while. And I’m okay with that now – plenty of other music to be getting on with. Something just didn’t feel right on Monday night. And I can only tell you about my experience of the night/on the night – so that’s what I did. I reviewed the gig as I saw and heard it. And the consequence, in this case, is that I was underwhelmed.

But isn’t it funny that the obvious accusation comes out – music snob, only liked the early stuff, too cool, focuses on the obscure stuff, can’t handle mainstream...

I don’t think I’ve ever fallen out of love with a band because they’ve become successful. The Black Keys are on their way to becoming the next Kings Of Leon. That might be a horrible thing to say – but it’s how I feel. And I didn’t fall out of love with Kings Of Leon because they became successful. I fell out of love with them because their writing fell away. And so did their on-stage energy. And the attitude was all wrong.

I can’t accuse The Black Keys of not offering energy, of not trying. But they have turned into any other band now. They have lost their point of difference.

This is not, to use the online review-comment parlance of these times, me "hating on them". This is me no longer happy with where a band is at, noticing a direction change. And announcing it.

But this week – with Ben Harper fans after my blood it seems and an angry Mumford fan writing a letter to the Dominion Post announcing that, were I an animal, I should be put down – it did get me to thinking about when we do fall out of love with bands because of their success.

I once like Ben Harper. Hey, we all make mistakes. I was young. And stupid. I only have one excuse now.

I didn’t stop liking Ben Harper because it became less cool to like him, or everyone who thought they were too cool started to like him, I stopped liking him because he started writing songs like Steal My Kisses and Diamonds On The Inside. He took the soft options. The first couple of times I saw Harper live were wonderful. He had a great bass player, a brilliant percussionist and a solid drummer. It was easy to dig it for the band alone. Band meme 2

But it is an easy way to sum it up these days – to suggest that we hate it when certain bands become successful; when bands that battled away fighting the good fight are suddenly parading around weaker material, dressing it up as if to suggest it has all the worth of their best material.

So what are your examples of bands you have fallen out of love with, walked away from, started ignoring because they have become too popular? Or is that never the case? Do you maintain – as I do – that it’s because the material becomes less interesting/more obvious? That the songs get swallowed by the image or that the dynamics within the group shift; that the band-name remains the same, but too many other things have changed...

Do you hate it when your favourite bands become successful? Or do you just not enjoy it when a band you once liked starts turning in mediocre work but there are more fans to trumpet its alleged success?

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