From fist-pumping stomps to face-melting solos, Them Crooked Vultures' performance at the Wiltern Tuesday wasn't an avalanche of hard rock–it was a monolith.
From the very start, the Vultures had the Wiltern's sold-out crowd pulsating to the lumbering rhythms of “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I,” a rafter-quaking riff rocker from their self-titled debut album, released this week.
The crowd's excitement nearly matched the energy blasted from a stage filled with hard rock's heavyweights: Led Zeppelin's bassist, John Paul Jones, Nirvana's drummer, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme vocalist/guitarist of Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss.
This nexus of rock titans has been slowly rolled out since the rumors of the supergroup began circulating across the internet. Like the sighting of a sasquatch, the outline of the band would appear in the distance. Shaky iPhone video of performances metastasized across social media networks. MP3's would suddenly appear on blogs. Surprise shows at small venues spawned hearsay and speculation. Then on the stage of the Wiltern, the full beast came into view.
Homme, coolly swaggered to the mic, wafting falsetto vocals over the grungy guitar chugging and sludge-rock riffery. Behind the drums, Grohl furiously pounded away, his hair flying up into his face with each cymbal smash. John Paul Jones ran through an arsenal of instruments including a 10-string bass, a mandolin, a keytar, an organ, and two other multi-stringed instruments that probably don't even have names yet.
Unlike many reports, Them Crooked Vultures actually isn't a supergroup; it's essentially Queens of the Stone Age plus JP Jones. QotSA's ablum, Songs for the Deaf, featured Grohl on drums and multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes, who joined the band on tour, has been part of Homme's operation for years.
But the undeniable influence of Jones' mastery of florid arrangement and soulful groove (he's responsible for the string section on Led Zep's “Kashmir” and the Clavinet groove on “Trampled Under Foot”), meshed well with Homme's sun-scorched brand of desert psychedelia.
When Jones' stutter stepping bass line perfectly interlocked with the tight drumming, on “Scum Bag Blues,” the 63 year-old classic rock icon looked back at Grohl, who cracked a smile as he sang backup, relishing in the approval from the man who started it all.
It was a quandary for the audience's Rock Band enthusiasts and air musicians. With so many idols on stage, it was hard to pick. Execute a perfect air guitar bend, or perhaps attempt a raucous thigh slapping drum solo? One audience member was a virtual one-man-band of invisible instruments, attempting air bass along to Jones' solo in “Scumbag Blues–left hand in the air, fingers curling around imaginary frets–while his right hand matched snare hits on his cargo pants.
“There's a lot of love in the air tonight,” Homme said before launching into the slinky fuzz guitar of “Caligulove.”
The song, like “Dead End Friends” and “Mind Eraser, No Chaser,” could have been a Queens of the Stone Age B-Side, where Homme's spacy guitar and airy vocals were layered over driving beats. But the focus would change when the connection between Jones and Grohl would take over. Instead of stitching their old bands together, like most supergroups, Them Crooked Vultures' blurs their influences at the seams, creating a singular sound, deep, pulsing, and thickly layered.
John Paul Jones closed the set with a solo piano piece that, like his bass playing, seemlessy shifted from soulful to baroque and recalled his dreamy interlude on Led Zeppelin's “Song Remains the Same.” As his final notes rang, the band left the stage, leaving behind a silence that was satisfying, a calm after the storm…
…that is, until the jazzy free-for-all jam in the low-slung blues encore, “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give up,” broke down into a sonic tsunami with sound so thick, there was not enough room to breathe.
But how else would you expect hard rock's finest to go out: With a bang or a wimper?