October 28, 2009
Live Review: Them Crooked Vultures
Josh Homme and Dave Grohl’s supergroup delivers a pulverising, rock-god triumvirate. Roseland Ballroom, New York, Thursday, October 15
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Let’s face it: supergroups are almost always rubbish and over the last 10 years, the evidence for this has been abundant. Zwan? A post-Pumpkins prog-fest for Billy Corgan and the only four people left in the music business who could stand him. Velvet Revolver? Tight-trousered tosspots still dining out on tales of gargantuan substance abuse. Even the recently formed Dead Weather took too much pride in sounding like they recorded their album in a shed instead of offering truly memorable songs. The reason for this constant failure is simple: pedigree is no substitute for chemistry. Having a bunch of minted fret-wankers get together and knock off some tunes between hairdresser and spa appointments is never, EVER gonna trump a band of hungry 22-year-olds who’ve grown up together and spent years honing their art while surviving on dog-ends and cold pizza.
With Them Crooked Vultures, though, the disparity between pedigree and chemistry isn’t quite so vast. Josh Homme (guitar/vocals) and Dave Grohl (drums) of course have been bessies for years. Grohl has also spent much of his life living out his John Bonham fantasies, so the addition of the remainder of the Led Zeppelin rhythm section, John Paul Jones (bass), locks in a line-up which suggests that the band should be tuned into each other’s frequencies more closely than their mere three months of existence should warrant. And it takes all of five minutes of their first NYC performance to prove that theory correct.
First song, ‘Elephants’, is a heaving riff-o-rama that shakes the crowd into paying attention before accelerating into a ferocious, double-speed ending. It feels like an eight-foot mugger cornering you in a darkened alley before he races off into the night with your wallet and dignity. Loud and sinister is how Them Crooked Vultures like to do it, and for much of their set, they do it superbly. The rhythmic power fashioned by Grohl and Jones is staggering, but this is not a band concerned with just brute force. Homme’s soul-boy falsetto also gives ‘Scumbag Blues’ a sophisticated touch.
With so much talent on display and upwards of 3,000 devout worshippers ogling the trio’s every lick and trick, it’s inevitable that Them Crooked Vultures are going to indulge themselves a bit. Grohl is his usual dynamic self but stops short of anything too flashy, whereas Homme and the band’s live second guitarist Alain Johannes trade solos frequently throughout.
But it’s Jones that gets the chance to showboat the most, pulling out an electric mandolin on the galloping western soundtrack ‘Highway One’ before adding a pretty piano solo on the end of the neo-Zeppelin rawk of ‘Daffodils’. The real weirdness comes when he straps on a fucking keytar for ‘Interlude With Ludes’ while Homme minces around the stage like a strung-out cabaret singer as the band play hotel lounge smoothness around him. Confusion reigns, and there’s a strong suspicion that TCV are airing a private joke as Homme guiltily mutters “thanks for clapping” during the crowd’s muted reaction.
It’s a slip-up that is quickly compensated for with the epic finale ‘Warsaw’, which starts with a swinging stomp before settling into
a psychedelic, Doors-esque middle section. More Homme/Johannes noodling ensues but there’s not a hint of gratuitousness this time; it purposefully builds the tension as a pulverising prog-rock groove emerges from the calm, getting noisier and noisier until it sounds like a 747 is being landed on the roof of the venue. It’s a moment of musical telepathy that confirms Them Crooked Vultures to be a band
born of fire as well as skill. As long as these two components continue to be balanced out, these three vultures could well end up breathing new life into the rock supergroup carcass.
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