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Live review: Them Crooked Vultures at the Roxy

November 17, 2009 | 11:17 am

On Monday night, the new hard-rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures played the coziest room of its very young career, charging through a semi-surprising 90-minute set at West Hollywood’s Roxy, roughly 24 hours before the band was set to appear at the much larger Wiltern for a sold-out performance.

Yet if a 500-capacity club seems like a strange domain for these A-list heavy hitters — Vultures consists of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl on drums and, as frontman, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age — they handily resolved the disconnect by treating the Roxy as they would a sports arena: At several points, it was hard to hear the music over the groan of a sound system pushed well beyond its limits.

On its self-titled debut, in stores this week, Them Crooked Vultures brandishes its muscular low end like a weapon; rhythm sections don’t come much dream-teamier than Jones and Grohl, so the band’s decision to build its songs around fat bass-and-drum grooves was a wise one.

Or at least a clever one: Nothing about the infectiously slapdash “Them Crooked Vultures” speaks especially of wisdom, least of all Homme’s goofy lyrics, which gravitate toward stoner-dude wordplay like that in “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” and “Interlude With Ludes.” That’s a pleasant surprise on an album that might have bogged down with the collective weight of these players’ impressive pedigrees.
At the Roxy, where guitarist-keyboardist Alain Johannes served as an auxiliary Vulture, the band was best when it re-created the record’s lighthearted vibe, pummeling away in search of a cheap thrill.

In “New Fang,” the album’s lead single, Homme worked his carnival-barker croon over a repeating boogie-rock riff, while “Scumbag Blues,” with a killer Clavinet solo from Johannes, answered a question that’s long burned in the hearts of all ZZ Top fans: What would “Tres Hombres” have sounded like if Nile Rodgers of Chic had produced it?

Anchoring the music with a nimble assurance undimmed since the days of “Black Dog,” Jones served as a visual indicator of the band’s swing — the funkier the music, the cooler his cucumber act. When the bassist strapped on a keytar for “Interlude With Ludes,” Homme couldn’t resist pointing out that “he even makes that thing look good,” and it wasn’t just empty hero worship.

A few times, Them Crooked Vultures came down on the wrong side of the arty-party divide, as in “Highway 1,” a spacey non-album track centered on Jones’ electric mandolin, and “Spinning in Daffodils,” in which the band got lost on its way to some kind of desert-metal epiphany. And the set-ending jam session that grew out of “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up” could definitely have been several degrees less epic: By the time Grohl finally re-instituted the song’s beat after a lengthy Homme-Jones duel, the effect was one of relief, not payoff.

Mostly, though, Them Crooked Vultures performed Monday’s show like a musical version of the new disaster flick “2012.” They wanted to see how much destruction they could subject a tiny venue to, and how efficiently they could do it.

-- Mikael Wood

YouTube video posted by user mwillie70.