Them Crooked Vultures Descend Upon The Roxy 11/16/09

What’s there to do on a Monday night in the City of Angels? Have dinner and drinks with friends? Be an annoying hipster trolling the floors of Amoeba Records? Or hey how about get your pretty little face melted off by something akin to a musical nuclear explosion? Alex, I’ll take face melting for $1000.

You know who Them Crooked Vultures are so we’ll not waste too much time rehashing the story and the minutia other than Josh Homme (QOTSA) + Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) + John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) = Them Crooked Vultures. What I’ll give you here are the facts, just the facts…varnished with an air of “Oh, hell yeah!”

Secret shows are a pocketful of awesome and a gift from the musical gods as a tiny reward for being masochistic enough to live within a 100 mile radius of Los Angeles and the insanity that it’s made of and thrives on. Secret shows by a power trio/supergroup courtesy of one of LA’s cozier venues (The Roxy) tend to make you think there’s no other place worth living. Within The Roxy walls Joshua Homme, John Paul Jones, and Dave Grohl (and Alain Johannes as wing man) brandished their sonic weapons upon us leaving the ears all but bloody yet well satisfied. For most in the room this was the first up front and in person intake of what Them Crooked Vultures have to offer.

Fleshing out every song from their self-titled release plus one was an exercise in tones, weight, light, heft, rock, and groove. If you’ve listened to the album versions of the songs let it be known that live is where these songs catch fire as they are constructed upon and orbit around one singularly fierce rhythm section in Jones and Grohl. Couple one of hardest hitting and intelligent drummers in Grohl with the deft funk and precise roll of Jones and the result is a block of instruction on what happens when artistry, touch, finesse, and sheer animal force collide. And carnage that ensues is a beautiful thing.

In the live the music is dense and oddly danceable as grooves, boogie, and blues make sweet and filthy love to psychedelic desert rock. Worthy of a one-night stand, yes, but you know that you want more. Grohl damned near physically assaults you with his thunderous, jumpy, and complicated fills as he propels the songs hard, creating some atypical rhythms and massive backbeats. By the end of the show I was practically visualizing Grohl tapping a beat while still in the womb as “born to drum” never seemed more apropos.

Crooked Vultures got bass face JPJ getting groovy like he means it

Crooked Vultures got bass face
JPJ getting groovy like he means it

John Paul Jones is. Period. Manning stage left, the elder statesman of TCV gets his multi-instrumentalism on from primary bass man to keyboardist to (bless his heart) the keytar and, while Homme may be the band’s front man, Jones’ presence elevates TCV’s credentials as he wields his four, six, and eight-string basses and occasionally has himself a little intimate dance party for one. That eight-string and its massive tones now have a special place in my heart (and will it in yours, too) because- for lack of finer eloquence- it’s the shit in “Spinning In Daffodils”. which borders on epic as does Jones closing the song with a piano solo of haunting chill. Chill. In a word, that’s Jones.

TCV has a handful of shows under their belt giving them time to learn how to present this aggressive package live. Jones is more than a rhythmic match for Grohl onstage and there may have been an ounce or two of hero worship each time I caught Grohl visually latching on and locking in on Jones. Either that or some serious Vulcan mind-melding was going on because their shit was never tighter than those moments when it looked like those two should get a room.

Tonight I spent the eve at the foot of legendary in the making. Translation: up against the stage in front of Homme, his amp, and his pedal board. Rock riffs, reverb laden layers and textures and schizophrenic arrangements are pretty much his specialty and TCV gives him all the room he needs to work his melodies. “Warsaw…” and its extensive jam traveled 3000 miles before reaching its destination and then there’s the lone non-album track, “Highway 1” (and that “non-album” status is pissing me off). It’s moodily trippy and it gets somewhat mind-altering with Jones on an electric mandolin and Alain Johannes playing the bass with the fluid dexterity typically reserved for a Spanish guitar. You have to watch Johannes’ hands to believe it and he also delivers some wicked clavinet action supporting the dirty fun in “Scumbag Blues”. “Interludes With Ludes” was the lark of the set and the album as Homme gave us his best cooing, lounge act impression complete with his typical soft hip sway and sashay and inappropriate hand gestures as he traversed the stage.

The view from ground Homme

Yes, the individual parts that comprise this project are pretty damned impressive but the sum total of Them Crooked Vultures borders on un-fucking-touchable.

Josh Homme

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new standard for a “supergroup”.

Asia, Velvet Revolver, Dead Weather, et al, take note.

Set list:
Elephants
Dead End Friends
Scumbag Blues
Gunman
Highway 1
New Fang
Caligulove
Bandoliers
Mind Eraser, No Chaser
Spinning in Daffodils
Interlude with Ludes
Reptiles
Nobody Loves Me
Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up

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