Them Crooked Vultures (with Middle Class Rut) 04/14/10
Club Nokia – Los Angeles, CA
Words/photos/videos by: concertconfessions.com
Having missed the bands two shows here in town last fall, and unable to attend Coachella due to previous commitments, my chances of seeing Them Crooked Vultures were looking rather bleak. I won’t lie – I was depressed. Do I fly to Denver and see them? Perhaps I could hold out hope for them wrapping their tour with an appearance at the 2010 KROQ Weenie Roast & Fiesta? Thankfully my luck changed one cloudy cubical dwelling morning, when across my phone came an e-mail informing me that Grohl, Homme and JPJ would be warming up for their appearance at Coachella with a headline gig at Club Nokia in revitalized downtown Los Angeles.
After having no issue with traffic caused by rush hour as well as multiple sporting events featuring local sports teams, we made it from beautiful Burbank to downtown LA in near record time. Much to my shock and delight, we were early enough to get wrist bands that granted us access to the front pit area. After making a few single serving friends, around 8:30 pm, the music got under way with a set from the Sacramento duo Middle Class Rut. In thirty minutes, this band managed to win me over, alienate me, anger me, and depress me only to once again win me over. I was worried at first, as the band’s guitarist Zack Lopez opened the set with a riff that was almost identical to “A Warm Place” by Nine Inch Nails. However, when drummer Sean Stockham kicked in with the first of many bone crushing beats, I was ready and willing to pay attention. Part Post-hardcore, part fuzzed out 1990’s alt rock, the first 3-4 songs were all high energy skull fucking sonic masterpieces that reminded me of Death From Above 1979. Then the train wreck occurred. After mumbling the name of the band which many of us failed to understand (come on guys, rule #1 is making sure people know who you are, especially when you are winning them over), the duo launched into the worst 311 inspired song I have ever heard. While the song is a perfect debut single for corporate rock radio the switch from ballistic attack to catchy reggae-eqsue popped killed all momentum the band had built. From there, Lopez started bitching about lights and begged for darkness upon the stage. Since I can’t 100% confirm what I am about 98.2% sure I saw, I won’t start rumors. I will just advise that next time its probably a good idea to leave the stage for 30 seconds instead of trying to sneak that stuff up your nostril. Whatever, despite the fact your frontman mumbled your name and came off like a bratty drug crazed diva, the songs were amazing. The final two songs of the night finished strong and made me all but forget what I am 98.2% sure I saw. If they can survive themselves – Middle Class Rut can truly go places.
As I sit here the morning after witnessing Them Crooked Vultures live and in person, I am in rare form. It’s not too often that I am lost for words, but today I am exactly that. As I mentioned in my introduction, I was depressed over the prospect of not seeing John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Joshua Homme together in person. When the band (joined by Alain Johannes on guitar) hit the stage, I had to remind myself to breath. With members in position, instruments in place, the foursome started things off with a bang – opening with “Elephant.” Much like the beast the song is named after, the song is large, loud and heavy. What makes this the perfect opening number is not the guts of the song, but the swirling intro/outro riff that mixes the blues of Led Zeppelin with that classic Homme fuck and run swagger.
The band didn’t miss a step – launching right into “Gunman” as the second number. With its jack hammering riffs, I looked to my left and realized I was watching John Paul Jones live and in person. My father has shared with me memories of seeing Led Zeppelin in places like Winterland and Kezar Stadium back home in San Francisco. Clearly I was not old enough to witness this, but watching the living legend lay down a groove on what appeared to be an eight string bass sent tingles up and down my spine. Granted it’s hard enough for me to focus on a day to day basis, but with so much rock royalty on one stage, it was hard to decide whom to watch when. A terrible problem to have, I know.
The set kept moving right along. With multiple fans holding home made “Fresh Pots” signs high above their heads, it was neat to watch Grohl beat up a drum kit once again. Watching the former Nirvana member on songs like the earlier mentioned “Gunman” and “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I” can’t not bring up memories of my youth watching Animal on the Muppet Show. Much to my shock and delight, the band even threw in a lil free style hippie jam fit for Bonnaroo in the middle of “Scumbag Blues”. What can’t these guys do?
Of all the collective artists, if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Homme. I remember hearing Kyuss in high school and while the vocals drove me bonkers the riffs were just so beefy I couldn’t ignore the band. While we got off to a rough start, I was on board with Queens of the Stone Age bandwagon long before Grohl’s stint on drums. You can imagine my excitement when Homme began to discuss new beginnings before dedicating “New Fang” to former Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri. While I won’t take this as solid proof that the bald bassist is back in the QOTSA fold, it certainly fuels the rumors that he will return when the band hits the European festival circuit later this summer.
The band made the most of their stop in downtown Los Angeles by performing some new songs. I have only heard “Highway One” once, but was thrilled to get to witness it live. Between the soft mandolin strokes of JPJ and haunting vocals of Homme, this one has classic written all over it. The band also busted out another new song; a slow bluesy jam – title unknown but with Johannes taking lead guitar duties, there was not a soul in the crowd who was not mesmerized by its beauty.
As great as the slower blues driven stuff is, it was very clear that most of the crowd came to rock. Even the AARP members of the audience couldn’t refuse the urge to jump up and down on the spring filled floor during songs like “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” and “Dead End Friends”. While Club Nokia was the first night on stage (not counting Jimmy Kimmel Live this past Monday) in a few months for the band, it sounded as if they had been on tour for years now. Everything was razor sharp, including Mr. Homme’s wit – encouraging the crowd to have a good time while poking fun at individuals sitting or looking bored up in the balcony. Hell, Homme was a human highlight reel. When I saw him perform with Queens across the courtyard at the Nokia Theatre, you were not even allowed to bring cigarettes in. A self-proclaimed fan of cancer sticks Homme was more than happy to set his guitar down, light up a smoke and do his best crooner impression during the lounge-esque “Interlude With Ludes.” That is of course after he gave John Paul Jones a Jersey Shore fashion make-over by popping his collar.
While they are all my favorites, “Spinning In The Daffodils” has been in heavy rotation the past few months here at concert confessions headquarters. With some serious finger picking action coming from Johannes – the song extended to well over fifteen minutes and was my personal highlight of the night. The number really has it all, a slow build up, rocking grooves and a beautiful piano outro courtesy of John Paul Jones. Saving us the wasted time of a useless encore break – Homme admitted to using the same “this is our last song” joke before surveying (and promptly inviting those who answered yes to fuck off) the crowd to see who was making it out to Coachella. “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up” was for the fine folks like myself. Unable to make it out to Indio for three days in the desert sun, this last number was ours. I snuck to the back of the venue, wanting to say goodbye. Perhaps Them Crooked Vultures will indeed release a second album and rise again as is rumored. Perhaps they will go back to their respective day jobs. All I know is that on a Wednesday night in April, I was lucky enough to get to witness their magic live and in person.