The best show by far of Lollapalooza 2009 really was part of Lollapalooza in name only: the after-show at Metro in the wee hours of Monday morning that marked the world premier of Them Crooked Vultures, the new supergroup featuring Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl and the legendary John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.
Sources said the band turned down the chance to replace the Beastie Boys when they dropped off the Lollapalooza bill as Adam Yauch battled cancer; apparently, the new group preferred to make its debut in a much more intimate setting. (Instead of the potential crowd of 75,000 that would have seen the band in Grant Park, it played instead to 1,100 at Metro, mostly hardcore fans of Homme and Grohl lucky enough to get tickets after a fan club notification.)
Addressing the setting for this auspicious bow, Homme said, "We could have done this in L.A." As he pantomimed a well-endowed woman performing a rude sexual act, the crowd cheered wildly. "That's why we came here!" he added. "We came to Chicago because we wanted to play Metro!"
During an amazing 12-song, 80-minute set, Them Crooked Vultures went on to prove it is one the rarest things in rock: a supergroup that not only deserves that appellation, but which actually is greater than the sum of its storied parts.
With second guitarist and occasional keyboardist Alain Johannes, another veteran of Queens of the Stone Age, augmenting the star trio, the heart of the sound owed a lot to that band's brand of hypnotic but intense stoner rock, as well as to the more spacey and bluesy sounds of Homme's earlier group, Kyuss. Grohl also played for a time with the Queens, after their third album, "Songs for the Deaf" (2002). But as great as that group has been at various points, Them Crooked Vultures take the sound to a whole new level.
Simply put, Jones has enhanced any musical setting he's ever graced with his classy and virtuosic presence, whether it's been producing the Butthole Surfers, performing in a trio with art-rocker Diamanda Galas or serving as the solid anchor that grounded his larger-than-life band mates in Zep. And as obsessive rock fans who grew up worshipping Jimmy Page and John Bonham, Homme and Grohl seemed thrilled to be standing onstage with one of their heroes, and they pushed themselves to new heights to prove that they deserved the honor.
One of the hardest-hitting percussionists of his generation, Grohl seemed even more intense in this setting than he'd been during his stint with the Queens, hammering his snare with both hands to create a massive backbeat, firing off rapid fire single-stroke rolls that made his single bass drum sound like two, and playing long and complicated fills between hi-hat, snare and rack tom without ever losing the songs' propulsive drive.
Indeed, the complexity of the arrangements in tunes such as "Elephants" and "Caligulove" bordered at times on progressive rock--both of the old-school Yes variety, and the more modern Tool flavor. But the fact that the quartet never lost that forward momentum or the essential gritty blues growl made the music more of a full-body hard-rock experience than a cerebral study in musicianship, even when Jones sat at the keyboard to add a lovely coda to "Daffodils," or moved from a six-string bass, to eight strings, to 10 strings and finally to a mystery instrument that resembled a strap-on lap steel guitar with a built-in digital screen.
Homme handled most of the lead vocals, though Grohl, Jones and Johannes all traded off on backing parts. As for the thematic concerns of the material--well, it's never been easy to discern what Homme is singing about onstage, and we'll just have to wait to figure that out
until the group releases its debut album, "Never Deserved the Future," on Oct. 23.
UPDATE: I incorrectly printed the release date and album title above based on a story from Rolling Stone that turns out to have been wrong. Says the band's publicist: "There is no set release date as yet. I don't think there's an album title either."
If the Metro show was any indication, the disc should be a stunner. The band presumably played the entire album--there was no encore--and only one song fell flat: "Interlude w/ Ludes," an alien lounge tune that found Jones on keytar and Homme putting down his ax to slink around the stage like an unholy combination of Dean Martin and Tom Jones.
Them Crooked Vultures set list: "Elephants," "New Fang," "Scumbag Blues," "Dead End Friends," "Bandoliers," "Mind Eraser (No Chaser)," "Gunman," "Daffodils," "Interlude w/ Ludes," "Caligulove," "Warsaw," "Nobody Loves Me."