Saturday, October 17, 2009

I like Dave Grohl. There, I said it.


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Published: October 16, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures had already been bashing away for about an hour at the Roseland Ballroom on Thursday night when Josh Homme, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, finally issued a disclaimer. “It’s a lot of new music,” he said, mock apologetically. Then he added, mock hopefully: “It’s not often you get to hear a bunch of music and you have no idea what’s happeni

Right? Well, sure, sort of. An ensuing roar signaled complicity more than consensus: since playing its first show this summer, this hard-rock supergroup has spawned a cottage industry of video bootlegs online, giving fans time to get acquainted, even before a lick of music is released.

As Mr. Homme must have expected, lusty cheers arose in response to some of the titles he announced, like “Mind Eraser” and “Dead End Friends.” This crowd was hardly fumbling through the dark, even if that would have fit the menacing bluster of the tunes.

Beyond that, what sort of surprise could this have been? Them Crooked Vultures is unswervingly faithful to its pedigree: along with Mr. Homme, best known as the frontman of Queens of the Stone Age, it features Dave Grohl, the former drummer in Nirvana, and John Paul Jones, the former bassist in Led Zeppelin. That their output delivers a punch to the gut can only be seen as the fulfillment of a promise. The band doesn’t feel like naked derivation, but its parentage is hammered home with every fat and bruising riff.

Dozens of those cropped up in Thursday’s show, which was all the better for it. “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I” amounted to a Zeppelinesque bombshell of heavy-gauge blues-rock; “Scumbag Blues” dropped some head-wagging funk, punctuated by a thumb-slapped bass interlude.

“New Fang,” one of the more buoyant tunes, hinted at Southern boogie rock, with slide work by the band’s rhythm guitarist, Alain Johannes. In roughly every song there was a heavy emphasis on chromatic tension, offbeat syncopation and tyrannical propulsion; Mr. Homme’s guitar solos were mostly brief and to the point.

His singing was just as brusque, even when he flipped into his sturdy falsetto. He’s a no-nonsense frontman, allergic to spectacle and averse to extraneous gestures. At times this made him seem dwarfed by his backing, as when he mumbled through a minor-key stomper called “Caligulove.” But then melody isn’t the core strength of this band anyway. That would be rhythm, which in the hands of Mr. Grohl — more often seen lately on guitar and at the microphone with his band the Foo Fighters — becomes a thunderous force.

What was missing on the whole was a semblance of vital messiness: the band had been too efficient, too terse, maybe even too tight. But a shuffle called “Warsaw” ended the show on the right sprawling note. Unraveling in the middle and racing to a feverish end, it caught the volatility that a band like Them Crooked Vultures tempers at its own peril. How it will sound on the band’s self-titled studio debut, due out soon, is anyone’s guess.

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