Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures at the Wiltern, 11/17/09

I'm way behind on this, but before I start writing my long and self-indulgent end of year and decade lists in the next couple of weeks, I have to say something about the band that I've been blabbing excitedly about in this space for months now.  Thoughts on this show and Them Crooked Vultures' debut album coming right up...

As I've said before, this band is basically what you would come up with if you were throwing around an outlandish concept for the perfect "Brian Hatfield Band," except they actually got together and made some great damn music.  I've been anxious to hear them and see them play since they were announced, so when this show went on sale I was online, refreshing my browser like a maniac.  The experience of the show was a little different than usual, since it happened on the same day the record was released, so while there were plenty of people in the crowd who had tracked Them Crooked Vultures down early, or just listened to it incessantly on their YouTube channel (guilty on both counts), most of the crowd was hearing them for the first time.  This led to more than a couple strange looks for me and my friends, as we were cheering when almost every song started.  Hey, we just love us some rocking! 

And rocking there was.  They opened with album opener "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I," a song that starts with a catchy—if somewhat conventional—verse-chorus-verse classic rock feel, before picking up steam and exploding into a dirty, vicious stomp for the last two-plus minutes.  When it happened live, the lights behind the band flashed bright (see the photo at top), and the crowd immediately started freaking out.  Such a perfect start, and a genuinely thrilling moment to share with the thousands in the Wiltern.  From there they jumped directly into "Dead End Friends," building off the momentum with another banger.  "I don't know what I'm headed for," Josh Homme sang, and while the crowd might have related a few minutes before, by now they had a pretty good idea.

Of course, beyond just the ferocity and virtuosity of the music, we were all being treated to something else: only the second band John Paul Jones has ever been in (after those Led Zeppelin guys).  Homme, drummer Dave Grohl and second guitarist Alain Johannes all treated him with a charming mix of comradery and reverence throughout the set, while he clearly enjoyed himself, especially with a quick bass solo during the fourth song, "Scumbag Blues."  The mandolin was brought out for non-album track "Highway One," and then a keytar appeared during the goofy drug trip "Interlude With Ludes."  Overall the band had great chemistry, with Homme and Jones often congregating in front of Grohl's kit to jam it out.  And special notice should be given to Johannes, a long-time Homme collaborator and Them Crooked Vultures' secret weapon.  He handled a lot of lead and rhythm guitar, plus keyboards, backing vocals, and assorted other duties.  Though not the big name that the others are, he is very much on their level as a musician.

By the end the band made it through the entire album, coming back out for what Homme claimed was their first encore ever to play the jam-session-in-waiting "Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up," which went on for close to ten minutes.  Then they waved and walked off, thus ending one of the best rock shows of my year.

As for the album, it should come as no surprise by now that I'm a huge fan. I was talking recently with a friend about my affinity for albums, despite their impending obsolescence, but even I had to admit that it's the rare album that's good from beginning to end.  Well, despite some nitpicks here and there, Them Crooked Vultures is one of those.  In addition to the songs I've already mentioned, first single "New Fang" is inspired boogie rock featuring one of Homme's best vocal performances; "Reptiles" applies liberal doses of acoustic guitar to one of the most Zeppelin-y tracks; and the evil disco of "Gunman" brings to mind what happens when a Crooked Vulture has sex with Le Tigre (yes, the whole band), to ominously danceable effect.

But I've been talking too long, so I'll hand the floor over to my friend and frequent commenter, Tom Solmer:
I have not often found myself thinking, wow this is really great.
It is a great performance, the tone and attitude of the whole thing being perfect. I mean, it's tough to think of any other album that so perfectly captures the spirit and attitude of rock music as it should be; it's a sound that is completely modern, completely incorporates the past half-century of rock music, and at the same time has a degree of timelessness. It's not like this is the sound of rock music only now; it pretty much embodies what rock should sound like, anywhere and everywhere. 
I couldn't have said it any better.

Set List: No One Loves Me & Neither Do I / Dead End Friends / Mind Eraser, No Chaser / Scumbag Blues / Elephants / Highway One / New Fang / Reptiles / Bandoliers / Gunman / Interlude with Ludes / Caligulove / Spinning in Daffodils
Encore: Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up

1 comment:

Hatfield said...

Tom has pointed out that the first line I quoted from him is out of context, and I just realized the problem: I read it as a broad statement about all music, and how TCV stood apart, whereas he meant as much as he enjoyed it and found it impressive, it still wasn't great, to his ears anyway. At least, I hope that's correct.