The rawk fist (index and pinky for horns, thumb tucked) is a tricky little bugger. It's a totally sincere expression of rock-induced euphoria with all the subtlety of a billy club. Them Crooked Vultures earned thousands of rawk fists Monday at the Fillmore, and I am convinced no band has ever been more deserving, for better and for worse.
Them Crooked Vultures played a two-hour epic, leaving a cursory thirty-minute opening set for Mini Mansions. The connection between the two is Queens of the Stone Age, members of which front both bands.
That's where things diverge: Mini Mansions is a good but sweet pop act -- a fine show to see in different circumstances, but the anxious crowd of long-hairs and manly men came for Led Zeppelin (almost literally), not The Beatles. So: Mini Mansions is sunny and fun, but these people came to be trampled and eaten alive.
Enter Them Crooked Vultures, which is more than capable of delivering that sort of aural destruction. Here's how this band works: Take a relatively anonymous rhythm guitarist in Alain Johannes, add a drummer and bassist from two of the ten most famous rock bands ever (Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones, respectively), stick Queens of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme in the same role, and come up with an insanely badass band name. Jam away.
Homme, against all odds, carries the spotlight just fine, despite the fact that his rhythm section came from Nirvana and Led Zeppelin. It's his unbreakable cool that keeps him afloat. Well, and his wit. After all, it's the loud funny guy who is the center of attention at the party. One choice piece of banter from Homme, which I hope was spontaneous: "That's what we do here at the Them Crooked Vultures Corporation. We give you a night you'll never remember."
Yep, that about sums it up. There is a bit of a corporate feel here, mostly because two and maybe three of these guys are bona fide celebrities - there was surely a not-insignificant portion on crowd who came just to gawk. But it's also lent sterility by the fact that you know for sure these guys never endured much of anything together - just packed houses and charter busses.
No disrespect meant to the members, who all did the dead show and the broken down van at some point in their careers. More than that, all of these guys have been involved in the creation of mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting music, and the resulting glow of genius trickles into moments of Them Crooked Vultures. "New Fang," played maybe forty minutes into the set, is a song for which the only appropriate reaction is, "Wow."
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Up to that point, it had been a no breaks, one killer riff after another, Grohl back there reminding everyone that he can beat the shit out of a crash cymbal. Then "New Fang," safely the highlight, and from there it became a test of endurance. The songs kept getting longer and longer, the same four chords in unison for five minutes. Everyone was still psyched anyway - this is pretty much exactly what you'd expect.
Things started getting a little weird when Jones whipped out the keytar and Homme mounted Grohl's drum set, and the rest is a drawn-out blur of mashing and thrusting, the climax finally coming a little before eleven with one last fifteen-minute song, where Homme played the keys with his feet.
The whole thing started to feel like Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King, one false finale after another. I'm sure the hardcore fans and nostalgia seekers up front were hanging on every second, but the trickle toward the exit had started forty-five minutes earlier. There are only so many times you can say "That's John Paul fucking Jones," to your buddy before the magic wears off.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: I think Them Crooked Vultures is a lot of fun in moderation, but it's sort of like rooting for the Yankees: old all-stars swinging for the fences every at-bat. Random Detail: I was subjected to the most thorough frisking of my life getting into this show - at one point the security guard had an index finger inside my shoe. By The Way: We got a chance to gauge just which Crooked Vulture drew the most fans when Homme introduced everyone one by one. In order of longest cheer to shortest: John Paul Jones (by a mile), Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Alain Johannes.