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Paul Mann: Them Crooked Vultures Plays Warmup Show

The 'supergroup' performs a surprise concert at the new Club Nokia in Los Angeles

Most people have a favorite concert memory. I was barely 16 years old when I saw Led Zeppelin at the Orlando Sports Stadium in Florida.

It was a sweltering summer night on the last day of August 1971. The stadium, which was nothing more than a large metal shell designed for rodeos, was literally packed to the rafters with people. The concert was long before the 1979 riot in Cincinnati, Ohio, at The Who concert. That disaster, during which 11 fans were crushed to death, was virtually the end of festival seating at large concerts for decades.

The stadium in Florida was designed to hold up to 7,000 people, but promoters had managed to cram at least twice that number inside. People were crammed over, under and on top of the metal bleachers. Led Zeppelin proceeded to play a nearly four-hour concert, with no opener, and at least six encores, as the crowd shook the stands into a thunderous rumble. I remember lead singer Robert Plant sauntering on stage for each encore and repeating over and over, “God, it’s hot in Florida,” as a plume of sweat-induced steam rose from the crowd.

Fast forward to April 14, 2010, at the gorgeous new Club Nokia, next to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. The new “supergroup” Them Crooked Vultures played a surprise concert to warm up for their performance at the Coachella music festival.

The venue is one of the nicest new live-music clubs in the country. Claiming a capacity of 23,000, it actually seems much smaller. The crowd is dispersed in a large oval shape with a second-level balcony comprising half of the seating. State-of-the-art sound and lighting are joined with live video, digitally edited for maximum coverage. It is the perfect platform for live rock bands.

The term “supergroup” has been bantered about for decades. Blind Faith may have been the first legitimate band to claim the moniker. The Traveling Wilburys were probably the last — until now. Them Crooked Vultures certainly has the pedigree to be such a legendary band. The group is made up of John Paul Jones, the historic bass player for Led Zeppelin, Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme and Alain Johannes of Queens of the Stone Age.

This may be the best new hard-rock band formed in a decade. While you can hear distinct influences of Zeppelin, Queens and Nirvana, the group melds their talents into a new and incendiary sound that lends itself well to experimental and improvisational live jams.

Jones, the magical pied piper of the group, played no less than seven instruments. As well as the bass and myriad keyboards — reminiscent of his Zeppelin days — he also played a violin, and a sort of electronic slide guitar device. Grohl did what he does best. He put his head down most of the time and played ferociously on the drums, in the same vein as rock legends John Bonham and Keith Moon. Homme, with his characteristic high-pitched voice and wailing lead guitar style, acted as the bridge to the audience, bantering with the crowd and using his sarcastic personality to keep a personal connection going. Unofficial band member Johannes performed as the stoic straight man, seamlessly keeping the rhythm on his guitar, or switching up to bass when Jones would experiment with a different instrument. He even sported a Paul McCartney-style Beatles bass at one point.

The year of touring has turned the group into a juggernaut of sound capable of improvising on a moment’s whim to create new and unusual jams. About the only complaints heard in the crowd about this group came from Foo Fighters fans, who seemed to long for the more melodic and commercial ear worms that would be the next big hit. About the closest this group has come to commercial pop is their song “New Fang,” which has received extensive airplay. But when watching this band perform live, it becomes quickly apparent they are not out to create poppy radio hits, but to play pure innovative music. The band tore through nearly two hours of music in an explosive set.

Homme took a break late in the set to acknowledge their Coachella gig. “I’m from the desert. I’m Joshua,” he quipped. “Anyone going to Coachella? Well, f*** you, this isn’t for you guys,” he said, then recanted: “Just kidding. This is for everyone.” But he was only half kidding.

This band should have been afforded a headline spot at this years Coachella but were relegated to a midlevel slot on the main stage. Since all but the headliners are allotted less than an hour set, the Coachella fans were destined to hear only half of the band’s explosive Nokia Club set.

The last song of the night, “Warsaw Or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up,” was an extraordinary 15-minute jam of thunderous layers of sound. I don’t know what they cut out of their Coachella set to make up for the lost hour, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a second of it.


Set list

Elephants
Gunman
Scumbag Blues
Dead End Friends
Nobody Loves Me & Neither Do I
Highway 1
New Fang
Bandoliers
Mind Eraser, No Chaser
Interlude with Ludes
Caligulove
Johannes guitar solo, You Can’t Possibly Begin to Imagine
Spinning in Daffodils
Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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