April 19: Them Crooked Vultures
It's hard for me to complain about a live show. Even bands for which I have the most lukewarm feelings can impress simply by creating a dynamic performance; grinding, loud, intimate and real. The Fillmore is not a venue for intimacy. It is large, broad and open with infinite opportunities for a gentleman of average height (read: short) like myself to be lost amid the jumping, cacophonous denizens. In seeing Them Crooked Vultures, I had expectations (which is usually not good) that I would see exceptional musicianship, polished stage production and that by the end of the night, my ears would be on the brink of bleeding. All of these expectations were met, and as for hearing loss, met exponentially. The presence of Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones, all on stage at once, was thrilling, and each played their hearts out, so I can't deride the experience. Yet, even with these superstars present, there were aspects of the show that failed.
Them Crooked Vultures is a band with only one album, 13 songs (6 or 7 of which are very good, and the rest on a sliding scale toward filler) and they played on stage for about two hours. I'm not one to decry a great band for playing long, but when the band, like this one, is known for powerful, punchy, punk-power songs, it is especially disappointing when showmanship takes precedent over conciseness. I went to see a band that rocks hard, and generally quickly, and instead found myself mired in a supergroup pseudo-jam. TCV consistently dragged songs that normally come in at between 4 - 7 minutes out to 10 or 15 minutes with long solos, extended "how loud can we get" grinds, and mediocre free-form rounds. Note though, that the music itself was not mediocre, but the fact that these songs are punctuated by their speed and power, were paced out until they had little impact remaining, and at least I (perhaps unfairly) was waiting impatiently for some to end. My as yet un-noted final expectation was primarily the culprit. I thought, as the sound check droned and the suspense built that Them Crooked Vultures would, surely, do a few covers of songs from each member's band. I dreamed of a Foo Fighters cover, a Led Zeppelin cover and a Queens of the Stone Age cover, all provided as penance for the high ticket price ($50) and as a fun time-filler for a band with only one, not-entirely-great album. This never transpired, and I should have known better.
In total, Them Crooked Vultures was solid, loud and exceptional. Grohl battled the drums like a warrior, Homme's vocals were perfect and his guitar excellent. Jones played a great piano solo, and was as expected awesome on the bass. But sometimes a great band is not merely the sum of their parts, and the same sentiment applies to a live show. The best moment of the night came without expectations, as they so often do, with the opening band: Mini Mansions. The sole opener, they played a set of awesome, creative, drum-driven rock that incorporated keys, bass, guitar and harmonies in unexpected measures and proportions. And, they covered "Heart Of Glass" by Blondie, so that pretty much sold me on them instantly. Mini Mansions deserves high-praise for opening for a "huge" act like TCV and doing such a stellar job. The lesson for this show is one of ditching expectations, even if the band seems at times to be playing more for themselves than for the audience.
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