Them Crooked Vultures
November 19, 2009
Better Than: Listening to Robert Plant shy away from the high notes at Led Zeppelin's 2007 reunion show.
It's no accident that the supergroup has, in recent years, gone the way of New Coke, the McRib, and Lindsay Lohan's career. For every Cream - the bluesy British trio Eric Clapton dissolved after listening to The Band's Music From Big Pink and determining that his own band had lost its soul - there are too many Oysterheads and Chickenfeet, much-hyped pretenders whose star-studded lineups add up to less than the sum of their parts.
Them Crooked Vultures, the power trio featuring Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age on vocals and lead guitar, Dave Grohl on drums, and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones rocking the bass, are no pretenders. Whether the collaboration will prove anything more than a titillating one-off is anyone's guess - these guys have well-paid day jobs, Jones included - but for one night at the Fox Theater, they delivered a tight, take-no-prisoners performance that left the capacity crowd hungry for an encore.
Strolling onto the stage shortly after 9 p.m., the newly anointed Vultures launched into a thunderous rendition of "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I," with Grohl pounding the skins in typically authoritative fashion and the rest of the band (including Queens contributor Alain Johannes on rhythm guitar) joining him a few beats in with a slippery groove backing Homme's forceful but rarely overpowering falsetto.
The band followed with blistering renditions of two up-tempo rockers, "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" and "Dead End Friends," that would have sounded right at home on Queens of the Stone Age's Era Vulgaris but benefit greatly from Jones' punchy bass riffs. Jones, conspicuously absent from Robert Plant and Jimmy Page's mid-'90s reunion tours (and none too pleased about it), remains a formidable performer, and on this evening dominated the proceedings with his nimble finger work and surprisingly smooth supporting vocals.
If anything, it's Jones, more than Homme, whose influence is most evident on the band's eponymous debut album, which often sounds like Physical Graffiti-era Zeppelin, and in their willingness to indulge heavy, free-flowing jams on stage. (Grohl, who attacks his drum kit with the same ferocity he once displayed with Nirvana, seems content to toil in the shadows; the Vultures are neither as polished nor as radio-friendly as his Foo Fighters, but every bit as aggressive.)
Those anticipating flights of nostalgia - an impromptu cover of "Trampled Under Foot," perhaps - were destined for disappointment, as the band stuck to original material culled from the seemingly informal jam sessions captured on Them Crooked Vultures. No matter. As the band tore through a feverish "Scumbag Blues," a funky, fist-pumping epic boasting a frenzied Clavinet solo from Jones and plenty of Homme's trademark guitar heroics, it was less tempting to romanticize the past than to envision a future in which these Vultures fly again.
Personal Bias: If some obsessive soul were to hold a fantasy draft with the express purpose of creating the perfect rock band, I would pick Josh Homme and Dave Grohl in the early rounds. Other picks would include Trent Reznor, David Bowie, and Prince.
Random Detail: John Paul Jones once set a hotel room ablaze by falling asleep with a lit joint in hand. He's remarkably well-preserved, much more so than his former bandmates.
By the Way: Grohl, a self-described Zeppelin disciple who coaxed Jones and Page into joining the Foo Fighters on stage at a Wembley Stadium show in June 2008, first suggested recruiting Jones for Them Crooked Vultures. Homme assumed he was joking.