Friday, November 20, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures
The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
November 19, 2009

Although The Fox only reopened this past February, this was my 5th visit to this already sacred place and it already feels like it's been part of The Bay Area music scene for years... at least to me... and I've finally settled upon where my regular parking spot will be for shows here... so, despite having to cross The Bay Bridge into Oaktown, I'm pretty much done with making my Fox experiences just as surgically precise as shows at the other local venues. Excellent... and it's always funny when a stranger comes up to me at a show and asks "Are you Umlaut??" It's even better when that person is wearing a Motörhead shirt.

It's easy to say that Them Crooked Vultures (TCV) are simply the sum of the associated bands... BUT, as a friend said to me the other day, they also represent the ghosts of two iconic bands that no one will ever see again: Nirvana and Led Zeppelin. It's that mystique which sets TCV apart from pretty much every other band at this moment in time. To be honest, I hadn't paid much attention to TCV... I didn't get caught up in the hype over the Summer when they made their debut... I didn't listen to the album at all when it was streaming online... To be honest I didn't really start paying attention to them until they became part of Umlaut's professional world... I picked up the CD on the day of release, which was only 2 days before this show... and after 3 or 4 listens I was interested in what I heard, but I had a feeling seeing this band live would be what was special about them.

For better or worse, anything Josh Homme does will always be compared to Queens Of The Stone Age now, but he'll always be Kyuss to me (remember when Kyuss played The Bottom Of The Hill? Me too..). I'm not a Foo Fighters fan, but I was deep into Nirvana and the fact that Grohl is behind a drum kit again is pretty amazing (remember when he toured clubs and played drums under the radar with his old band Scream at the height of Nirvana mania? Me too..). The band's live sound was augmented by Alain Johannes on guitar and keyboards. For the newbies: Johannes has played on albums by Queens Of The Stone Age, Spinnerette, and Puscifer.

However, despite these Modern Rock icons, it's the Classic Rock icon who makes TCV special. Without John Paul Jones (JPJ), TCV would be just another average band... The magic that he brings to this project can't really be described with mere words.. and he's shown in the past that he's interested in exploring new and diverse music, having worked with the likes of Diamanda Galas and The Butthole Surfers in the years since his old band broke up.

Despite Dave Grohl being behind the drum kit onstage, my eyes were locked on JPJ almost the entire set. Watching him play was riveting... how he held his bass the same way as I've seen in countless Zeppelin videos and photos... how he played with a supernatural sense of ease and also with a inspirational joy; when JPJ smiled during songs it was like 40 years of Rock music history blessing the event... and it was riveting how JPJ switched between instruments so effortlessly. During the 90 minute performance JPJ played the following instruments:
  • 4-string bass
  • 12-string bass
  • guitar
  • organ / electric piano
  • electric mandolin
  • keytar
  • some bizarre instrument that was part bass / part electronic thing.. I couldn't figure out what it was.
I think the magic of JPJ's presence hit everyone over the head during the song 'Reptiles' when his retro funky bass playing blew the roof off The Fox. WOW... and the sold out audience's response after every song was thunderous.. During JPJ's keyboard solo / interlude later in the set I swear I could hear the hundreds of Led Zeppelin fanboys (and girls) in the room screaming with delight... I'm serious... and the man seems ageless! How old is he really?! The answer: 63... He's amazing!

My head finally exploded during the last song of the set. Midway through that final song JPJ moved next to Grohl's drum kit, his back to the audience, and the two locked eyes and they synched into a groove that got my head spinning (or maybe it was from the contact high from all the weed being smoked around me..)... and then Homme moved next to them, with his back also to the audience, and he locked his guitar into the groove too... and that's when my head exploded. It was as if TCV's final statement to the Oakland crowd was "We're a BAND and not simply some iconic musicians playing together to make a quick buck." Onstage TCV are a BAND; you can't fake chemistry like that. Magic. For the record, Homme drank 2 beers and a half a bottle of vodka onstage. Magic.

On another note: Exactly one year ago to the day, Umlaut closed the book on what was the worst professional experience I've ever had.. What made it so painful was that it should have been the most amazing professional experience ever because it involved representing and working on bands who are sacred to me... Fast forward a year from that low point and karma payback is an amazing thing to watch AND experience.. and the fact that I was seeing THIS band on THIS date was amazing and I was tripping hard on it all day. The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways, man.

Members of Metallica = 2. If you bought one of every TCV merch item you would have paid around $150; it's nice to know TCV's merch in the future will be in good hands.. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. Not to be a buzzkill, but I just have to say that the After Show scene was, like, totally LAME. Oh well... at least the drive back to Casa de Umlaut was fast and easy.

Them Crooked Vultures have left the building..