Them Crooked Vultures‘ descent on the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles Wednesday night was an altogether different experience from the band’s previous visit last November, when they played on both the eve and the night of the release of their astonishing debut album.
Those five short months ago, Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones & Alain Johannes were still chasing the material that would become our pick for album of the year, still working to conquer the myriad of tempo changes and trap-door song shifts which sound, as Homme explained to Antiquiet last year, like “a broken robot cleaning your house”.
Wednesday’s show presented a more evolved Vultures; in full command of the material after having road tested it for half a year, the band displayed a confidence and affinity for razor-sharp off-the-cuff jamming that borders on telepathy. They even debuted a new song ahead of their Coachella performance this weekend.
Opening with an explosive rendition of Elephants, Homme’s rooster strut was matched by a mischievous, determined enthusiasm, knowing full well that getting a Los Angeles crowd to actually dance at a show is about as easy as getting Billy Corgan to write a decent song these days – 99 times out of 100 it just aint happening. But rather than abandon those shackled by self-consciousness and turn their attentions inward, Homme & Co. reached out further, reminding the affected-cool audience that “Cool is something you get into, not something you avoid.”
Extended jams lengthened familiar tracks by half at times, such as on the blues-groove overdose of Scumbag Blues or danger-sex jam Gunman. Near-telepathic interplay between rhythms and meandering leads gave new life to album opener No One Loves Me & Neither Do I, with Jones rocking a 12-string lap-steel bass with the passion of a legend revitalized. Clearly, their time on the road together as a band over the past several months has tightened all the screws in the Vultures machine and added a triple-distilled dose of astroglide to the gears.
After a run through non-album desert-ghost track Highway One, Homme dedicated New Fang to former Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri. “This song’s about new beginnings,” Josh explained, fueling speculation that the former bandmates may reunite again in the near future.
Homme put his guitar down for the sadistically seductive Interlude With Ludes, dancing around the stage like a lounge singer on ecstasy and tossing a burning cigarette over his shoulder as Johannes turned out a blistering solo and Jones made sweet rock love to the keytar.
After a lengthy guitar piece by Alain, the rest of the band emerged for a strutting, slow-boiling blues-driven new song called You Can’t Possibly Begin To Imagine. Shortened to “Can’t Possibly” on the printed setlist, the track is one of several copyrighted by the band that don’t appear on their debut. I’d be happy to decorate it with descriptives, but the magical powers of the internet remove such a third-party necessity:
The track was enthusiastically embraced by the crowd, who by that point seemed to have loosened the stick from their collective asses and began to actually move. A good thing, too, because on follow-up track Daffodils, Mr. Dave Grohl delivered the single most pummeling, thunderous fiasco of beats this rabid fan has ever seen him employ.
An extended version of Warsaw closed the night, a breathless, pounding climax to a show that took no prisoners and flashed an array of new feathers, new colors, new frontiers and promise of what may lie in the future – if the fates allow. With both Grohl and Homme returning to their other bands with big plans to finish the year, Them Crooked Vultures are finishing this run with an open door, and it’s clear they’re out to leave a lasting impression with this final string of tour dates. It’s been an incomparably awesome ride since news of the Vultures’ existence first broke last year, and to witness the band push themselves to deeper, more dynamic heights, challenging each other to further evolve their already ironclad mastery of the craft as they did Wednesday night was nothing short of an honor.
FYI: A live version of Highway 1 is set to be released for the first time this Saturday, April 17, on a 10-inch vinyl picture disc made in support of Record Store Day. Go get it – and check out a very special message from Mr. Homme about the event.
Thanks to cserrao86 for the video.
Photos by Johnny Firecloud