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Them Crooked Vultures preview their Coachella set at Club Nokia

April 15, 2010 |  1:44 pm

Vultures

“We're having a good time up here,” a swaggering, smiling Josh Homme announced to cheers at Club Nokia on Wednesday. He was midway through a two-hour set with Them Crooked Vultures, his band with drummer Dave Grohl and bassist John Paul Jones, and together they were demonstrating just how far they've come in a year.

Delivering heavy rock with real flair and finesse is a good trick from any rock act, and an impressive resume is no guarantee for success. That was the challenge when Them Crooked Vultures was birthed last year by singer-guitarist Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and Jones (Led Zeppelin). The label “super-group” comes with its own built-in disappointment.

It turns out that the band's self-titled debut album was only the beginning of where the band would go. At Nokia, Them Crooked Vultures launched that same material much further into the stratosphere, stretched out not only into extended jams but explosive, well-constructed passages, while never wandering off a sonic cliff.

It's the sound of a band of distinctive artists who have been traveling and challenging one another on the road and onstage for a year of intense experimentation and play, and a clue to the band's Friday night set at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. The songs have only grown deeper, heavier and looser with time and practice.

As they have from their first shows, they were joined onstage by guitarist Alain Johannes, a longtime associate of Homme's. Grohl spent the night bent and grimacing over his drums, pounding gut-punch beats with gloved hands, already soaked within the first few minutes.

 

There was the full, bruising stomp of “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I,” with Jones cradling a 12-string lap-steel bass, adding to the kind of thunder you might imagine roaring from a visiting spaceship. “Scumbag Blues” sounded something like the heaviest brand of blues-rock that once emerged from the '60s London music scene, echoing Cream with Homme doing a Jack Bruce falsetto, shifting into layers of shimmering, spacey guitar from Homme and Johannes.

Comedy relief came in the form of “Interludes With Ludes,” as Homme put his guitar down to sing warped romantic lyrics ("Is my face still bleeding? Then what is your problem?") and dance around the stage, tossing a burning cigarette over his shoulder, leaving room for a searing, unhurried solo from Johannes.

There were new songs, suggesting fresh directions for the band, but it could be a while before fans see Them Crooked Vultures again. Homme's QOTSA has scheduled shows this summer in Europe, and Grohl recently revealed plans to reunite with his Foo Fighters to make a (literal) garage recording with producer Butch Vig, inevitably putting the Vultures on hold.

Their return will be anxiously awaited by connoisseurs of hard rock. A band of this ability, and willingness to challenge itself, is a rare find. The stakes could be heard in the night's set-closing “Warsaw On the First Breath You Take After You Give Up,” a thundering, melodic storm of sound stretched to 13 minutes. When it was over (as usual, with no encore), both the band and its fans looked utterly spent and happy, and ready for a little bit more.

-- Steve Appleford

Photo: Them Crooked Vultures, from left, John Paul Jones, Joshua Homme and Dave Grohl. Credit: Dustin Rabin / Dustin Rabin Photography
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