Them Crooked Vultures are more than just hype
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
On the night of the show, I spoke to a few random folks here and there, asking them about the band we were about to see. Mainly, I asked if anyone had heard anything by these guys. The answer was always the same.
"Naw, man, haven't heard a thing. I just saw who was in the band and knew I had to see this."
It’s been hard to collect my thoughts on this band. Them Crooked Vultures — Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones — are obviously operating on a different level than most folks making music right now. With famous names and their music unknown, they’ve sold out tours on both sides of the Atlantic just a month after they debuted in Chicago. They’re throwbacks, in that they’re shrouded in mystery in a way that nothing is anymore.
And on this evening in Boston, at the revamped House of Blues, they took a crowd of about 2,000 listeners and turned them into fanatics after one song.
The sheer power of this trio (aided by a sharp-dressed Alain Johannes on guitar) cannot be overstated. The bottom end brought by Jones and Grohl is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. They are thumping, charging, punishing, relentless, brutal.
And the volume. My lord, the volume. I don’t know if I was alone in this, but the levels were unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It ground your feet to the concrete. It could knock the beer out of your hand. It was immediate, and it was constant. They were not, pardon my French, fucking around.
The songs themselves were intense, engaging and complex. They’re riff heavy and groovy in the tradition of Black Sabbath and, yes, Led Zeppelin, but they’re held together in the robotic, Desert Rock aesthetic that Homme brings to all his projects. The opener, “Elephants,” for example, is based on what would be a sort of bluesy riff were it left alone. However, it’s put through several speed changes, it stops and starts, it’s overdriven to an extreme that would feel right at home on Era Vulgaris, and it’s given this demon-from-the-floor drive by the rhythm section of Grohl and Jones. Like the three men that make up this band, the song is relentless. For six minutes or so, they beat the audience over the head with this track, a first impression to end all others. A sonic introduction designed to let the audience know exactly what they were in for on this evening.
And it worked. The hype of these kinds of supergroups almost never lives up to expectations, and given the collective pedigree of Homme, Grohl and especially Jones, expectations were high. They shattered those expectations immediately. This was so powerful and hammer heavy that the crowd was leveled. If you were one of the poor souls who paid through the ears for a scalped ticket, this was worth every penny. Within two or three songs, a mosh pit broke out on the floor. The crowd was doing their best to try to match the fury of the band.
But despite that aural brutality, whenever his hair flew back from over his face, the crowd was treated to Grohl smiling ear to ear. He is an intense drummer to watch in action, all arms and double-bass boom, but he is also completely aware of how special this combo is. I’m sure looking to his right and seeing a guy from Led Zeppelin never gets old, either.
From the crowd, watching Jones was a treat. He’s 63, but honestly doesn’t look much older than 40. And he’s a maestro. Switching from 4- and 8-string basses to a strange-looking slide bass on “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I” is one thing. But then to hop on the keyboards to bring that doomy “No Quarter”-esque vibe to “Caligulove,” or a bizarre electric mandolin to “Highway One,” was special. He deals in the business of sounds, and whatever sound he feels will help the song, he’ll make. And he’ll smile all the way through.
Interestingly enough, in a band of equals, it’s clearly Homme’s vision leading the way, which is fine from my perspective. The youngest of the three at 36, all the songs had his undeniable stamp as an artists, and this goes beyond the singing and guitar playing. As previously noted, this band has his Palm Desert signature, and what’s especially impressive about that is the trust that’s inherently been put in him by Grohl and Jones. Grohl has worked with him before (listen to the drums on Songs for the Deaf by Queens sometime if you don’t already do so weekly), but the trust from Jones speaks volumes.
It’s that trust that’s missing from most all-star projects. Everyone is trying to simultaneously one-up each other while staying out of each other’s way. The songs wind up boring, and the attention levied on them not only doesn’t live up, it eventually leads to a quick split.
That doesn’t seem to be an issue here. What makes this band work is that they are three musicians who were interested in working together, to see what it sounded like. Is it built to last? Probably not — I have to think Homme and Grohl will go back to Queens and Foo Fighters, respectively, while studio work and that just-maybe Led Zeppelin reunion always waits around the corner for Jones.
In the meantime, this is a pulverizing band who are probably going to release one of the most incredible albums of 2009. Do everything you can to see this band, while you can. Power and chemistry like this doesn’t just appear every day. Them Crooked Vultures is a demanding band, and that’s what makes them special. In the end, somehow, the sum is greater than its fantastic parts.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org
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