There have been a few “supergroups” that came and went in the last few years, many formed from the remnants of the grunge generation looking to try out new sounds, such as Army Of Anyone (the members of Stone Temple Pilots headed by Richard Patrick of Filter), Audioslave (the members of Rage Against The Machine headed by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden), or Velvet Revolver (Scott Weiland of the aforementioned STP fronting the remaining members of Guns N’ Roses). While all of the records are excellent in theory, in execution they don’t always live up to the names of the musicians writing the music on the records. The kind of supergroup that is likely to TRULY break the mold is one spanning multiple generations of music. In the case of Them Crooked Vultures, it’s three generations: the stoner-groove-rock of the 2000’s, the solid, angry blues-grunge of the 90’s, and the arena-level rock-n’-roll of the ’70s. Of course, these three genres would make sense, given that Them Crooked Vultures is composed of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age / Kyuss), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters / Nirvana), and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin).
Three generations (or more!) of fans were guests at Oakland’s Fox Theater for the evening’s sold-out performance. Opening for Them Crooked Vultures was LA’s own Mini Mansions, who began the show with a song that was incredibly slow and somber. I was concerned that the fans, who were likely impatiently waiting for the blues-grunge-rock three-hit combo of the headliners, would either ignore them or riot, but they picked things up a few songs later. It seemed most appropriate to have Mini Mansions as an opener, it turned out, because their set was rather multi-faceted. While they chiefly brought a lot of Beatles-like rock-n’-roll into their mix, there were other random elements throughout: fuzzy, heady distortion along the lines of stoner metal or nerd rock; keyboards that ran the gamut of 80’s synths and 90’s soft-rock piano; melodies and rhythms that could have come from numerous generations. I still maintain that they had a bit of a slow start, but it was a relatively entertaining set.
It was a positive maelstrom of screaming fans, however, when the house lights dimmed at 9:30pm and the triumphant trio walked onstage: Josh Homme, with his rocker strut, moving to hold the center position and “host” the night, as he later described it; Dave Grohl, with arms that looked like they’d been carved from rock and sporting his Nirvana-days long hairdo, locking himself in place behind the drum kit; and John Paul Jones, looking to be in fantastic shape and health as he marched onstage armed with a massive electric slide guitar. The collection of eight diamond-shaped light receptacles sprang to life as Dave pounded out the beat of the first song of the night (which happened to be the first track on the band’s eponymous debut), “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I”.
Josh Homme, however, got only one note out of his guitar before the tone suddenly died. It only took a few moments before a tech rushed onstage to fidget wildly with the pedals and amps. Thankfully, the band kept in good humor about the situation; JPJ and Dave, along with backing member Alain Johannes on rhythm guitar, kept the song going for the almost-minute that elapsed before Josh’s screeching guitar came snarling its way back into the mix. The tech ended up popping onstage a few more times throughout the night, although there were no more noticeable problems during the set. With the problem fixed, the band tore into the song, and the crowd came to its feet in roaring approval; nearly the entire balcony of the Fox Theater was standing, dancing, and cheering them on.
Many of the songs during the set saw the band going into extended solos and breakdowns, but the swirling, psychedelic jams of hippie favorites Widespread Panic and The Grateful Dead were not to be found here. Instead, audiences were treated to the full extent of brilliant musicianship and collective tightness that the trio maintained with unparalleled precision throughout the night. JPJ broke into a grooving, rambling bass solo; Josh’s guitar took the band barreling across new levels of volume; and Dave was a positive animal on the drums, the beats sounding full, slick and solid even as they emerged at a breakneck pace. All of these elements were present… and this was only the first song of the night.
Before this night, I was completely unfamiliar with the music of Them Crooked Vultures, but I had a hunch as to what the music would “likely” sound like: a bluesier, more rock-‘n-roll version of Queens Of The Stone Age, with a perfect rhythm section and arena-level sound. That was really only scratching the surface of the music that was being played at the Fox that night; while Josh’s voice and many of the melodies certainly hailed from the Queens’ schools of thought, there were lots of other styles besides dark blues to be found within the band’s framework of songs. It was, truly, a multi-generational sound that the band played, and I have to say that THAT was the most pleasant surprise of the night — not to say that the band’s impeccable dedication to their performance wasn’t a pleasant surprise.
John Paul Jones, arguably the biggest of the three musicians in terms of sheer performance background, proved to be the most multihued in terms of his selection of instruments to add to the mix. While opening the set with a slide guitar, which he brought back a few times that night, he was not only seen on his characteristic bass guitars, but also on keyboards, mandolin, and even a keytaur on “Interlude With Ludes”. I am thoroughly convinced that JPJ is one of the few musicians who can play a keytaur onstage, at age 63, in the middle of a blistering rock show, and still look like a badass doing it.
Despite some speculation that Them Crooked Vultures might have played songs by any of their founding members’ other famous bands, the set was culled entirely from their debut, with the non-album track “Highway 1″ in the middle of the set. The final song of the night, “Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up”, gave birth to another gigantic jam session, extending well past the ten-minute mark as the band went from slow to fast, loud to soft, and back and forth, ending in a hurricane of drum rolls, guitar wails, and thundering bass. The lights blazed across the stage one final time as the band waved, bowing, to the ecstatic crowd; there was to be no encore, either, as this was the final song to be played, and it would really be impossible to follow up a performance like the one that had just been witnessed.
While I had the opportunity to listen to the album before the show, I declined to do so, on the notion that I wanted the band’s live performance to truly be the measure of their ability. I can honestly say that any expectations I might have had were blown away — and I already hold all of these musicians in extremely high esteem. This band is incredibly solid — the musicians all try to play to the best of their abilities, they don’t try to step on each others’ toes, and they nail each note and beat of each song with savant-like deftness. I probably won’t get to see Them Crooked Vultures again in a show of this nature — club-sized, I mean — but I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to for this performance.
All photos by Jonathan Pirro.