Them Crooked Vultures Strip Rock’s Carcass

Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones: a supergroup in every sense of the word, reveals MOJO's Andrew Perry...

Them Crooked Vultures--the supergroup formed by Josh Homme (vocals/guitar), Dave Grohl (drums) and John Paul Jones (bass)--rolled into London on Wednesday to perform only their fifth gig to date.

The band was first mooted by Grohl in Mojo magazine four whole years ago. "That's the next album," he giggled, almost disbelieving its personnel, "that wouldn't suck!" The news is: they do anything but suck.

That they were going to appear as surprise support act to Arctic Monkeys at Brixton Academy was such common knowledge, and had generated such an extraordinary buzz, that by showtime at 7.45pm, the venue was practically full--almost unheard of in London.

Them Crooked Vultures, who have thus far released no music, except snippets from one song drip-fed onto their own web site, were given the kind of reception that most Brixton headliners would die for.

Their first two songs dispelled any fears that this was no proper band, just a couple of hip late-thirtysomethings smash-and-grabbing some extra credibility via Led Zeppelin's wrinkly old bassist.

Grohl--whose drumming muscle powered Nirvana to rockdom's very pinnacle--was on fire behind his large peacock-blue kit, red-faced and glistening within a couple of minutes. Having offered himself (vainly) for Zep's one-off reunion at London's O2, he was visibly relishing his "Bonzo" moment. John Paul Jones--rubber-fingered across the fretboard--seemed fully locked in, and not at all abashed by the ferocity of the material.

The songs, and the style of the songs, were Homme all over: dense, dark riffs twisting according to Queens Of The Stone Age logic, but shorter and more to the point, clipped of some of Queens' ponderous excesses. Homme, too, seemed psyched, where often he has appeared bummed and diffident when playing on British soil.

The trio were joined throughout by Alain Johannes, a baldy second guitarist, occasional member of QOTSA, and engineer at Homme's desert studio for the Arctic Monkeys' new Humbug album.

After introducing them all, Homme proclaimed, "And I'm Joshua". He saluted to his public and added: "I've done drugs with almost all of you--and it was my pleasure."

Some of the crowd were rapt; some were bludgeoned to submission. This was heavyweight stuff. Third up, "Gunman" was a propulsive, circular punk groove, with a canny dropped beat. "Mind Eraser" ("no chaser") was every bit as mean as its title, while, for the stop-start "Caligulove," Jones sat at a rinky-dink '60s organ, and stomped out a bassline on floor-pedals.

"Daffodils" recalled the menace of primetime Killing Joke, until diffused into Jones's mellow piano coda. "New Fang" packed all the thunderous funk of Houses Of The Holy-era Zeppelin.

At a busy festival, you can imagine the wings of the stage crammed with other top-flight artists, creaming themselves over the Vultures' sheer exorbitant musicianliness. "On Nobody Loves Me And Neither Do I," Johannes strapped on a Macca-style Höfner bass, and Jones switched to a futuristic-looking six-string, which he played with a bottleneck, eliciting sounds more befitting of a synthesizer.

The last song--tight, infernal, glam-beaty, and waxing ear-bleedingly loud--went into a couple of breakdowns, during which Jones soloed mesmerizingly. For a minute or so, he and Homme talked and laughed, all-the-while furiously fret-burning--piss-taking of near superhuman proportions.

Even this battle-hardened scribe's ears were still ringing 45 minutes later, when the Arctic Monkeys appeared. Even with their crowd in the house, they sounded brittle indeed in the Vultures' wake.

Five gigs down (one in Chicago, three in the Benelux countries), and word is spreading like wildfire about Them Crooked Vultures. What else is known about them? They reportedly spent July cutting songs in Los Angeles, for an album called Never Deserved The Future. Further song titles include "Interlude With 'Ludes," "Dead End Friends" and "Scumbag Blues."

It can be only a matter of weeks before they go overground. From there on, the world--particularly America--will be at their beck and call. Ear plugs will be necessary.

Come taste, where every day is an excuse to play Led Zeppelin II.

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