Them Crooked Vultures at War Memorial Auditorium, 10/5/09
It takes a lot to get us out to a show by 8 p.m., especially to see a supergroup, of all things. So there must have been a good reason, right? Well, this supergroup has Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones in it. If you need us to name the bands those guys were/are in, then immediately stop reading this, go to your local record shop and ask the first person you see to tell you about life (or just click here). Figuring it was enough to ask the audience to sit through an hour-and-a-half of songs "no one knows," the band found it best to forgo an opening act. Thank God.
By the time we made our way inside, the auditorium was packed to the gills. Not since the debut of Oysterhead have this many garden-variety rock fans come together with such high hopes. Them Crooked Vultures have not even so much as released a single--the only thing people have to go on are some YouTube clips that'll make you seasick--so the only way to truly hear the band is to see them live. And as they took the stage at what Homme proclaimed as their 10th show, the place went nuts.
So what did they sound like? Not a whole lot different from what you'd expect: fuckin' balls-out rockin', brah. More like a cross between Queens of the Stone Age, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin than Eagles of Death Metal, Foo Fighters and Donovan, if that's what you're wondering. Since Homme is steering the ship as lead singer and guitarist, it basically sounds like he's found his dream rhythm section to comprise the new incarnation of QOTSA. (QOTSA rhythm-guitarist Alain Johannes was also on hand to fill out the sound.) Homme is one of hard rock's last innovators, and he's got enough smart-alecky swagger and good ideas to get away with not being named Robert, Jimmy or Kurt in his present company. The songs we heard typified what Homme is good at: writing music that's smart, yet will sound great blaring out the windows of a mud-covered pickup truck.
And of course TCV were more than a little Zeppelin-y, which, even without JPJ, is par for the course considering that Led Zeppelin made the stoner-rock template of pentatonic riffs, fat drums, odd meters and sex-laden rock 'n' roll attitude with which this band molested and mutilated our ear drums over the course of their 90-minute set. Just when something would start to sound predictable, the band would throw in a rhythmic curve ball or left-field melodic flourish to keep us on our toes. While the majority of the show consisted of riff-heavy, groove-suffused hard rock, there were plenty of proggy, climb-mountain-see-aging-wizard moments of jamminess that made us think that Homme's urge to whip out a bow--and Grohl's to deep-six his sticks in favor of bare hands--must have been killing them.
As made evident by the house lights-cuing ovation he received during the mid-show band introductions, the biggest star of the night was John Paul Jones. Jones, however, did not spend the show displaying the giddy, "Hey, I'm onstage and back in the game" blush that would overtake most aged rockers in his position. Instead, he looked serious and played with a determination to let people know they weren't just there to see some fossilized veteran, but to hear something fantastic. Throughout the night--whether on bass, piano, synths, keytar or other instruments we weren't even able to identify--Jones displayed his ever-vital prowess--so much so that we were willing to forgive the use of a 12-string bass with a light-up fret-board--and that's saying something.
Dave Grohl was all smiles. Forget the fact that he can still headline Wembley Stadium and sell millions in his own band. Despite having turned us off by comfortably slipping into torch-rock territory on the last few Foo Fighters records, Grohl is still "our hero" when it comes to poundin' the skins. Throughout the night he grinned away while doing his best Animal impression--never losing a beat or letting the intensity drop. The argument over whether or not he is this generation's John Bonham is now officially over.
What was most striking was the band's chemistry. At no point in the show did they ever lose the full undivided attention of the audience--quite a feat in a town full of musicians and with a set of songs that were brand new. There is no doubt that they exceeded expectations. All in all, it was easily the best 10th show by a band we've ever seen.