Gig Reviews

Them Crooked Vultures, Melbourne Festival Hall 22/01/10

I wish I had some kind of mind-blowingly coherent rant about Them Crooked Vultures’ Melbourne debut at Festival Hall on Friday night, but truth of the matter is I’m finding my memories of the whole evening a little bit hazy. No intoxication of any kind was involved, and I can’t say I found myself under any kind of spell from the mesmerising rock performance going on before me. It just seems that settling in at home, in front of an old dvd after the show was the highlight of my evening.

Let me give some context – because it’s deserved here. My presence at TCV’s Melbourne show was for review purposes only. Before I was offered the spot, I must admit, I only knew the rudimentaries – the major players. Beyond that, the album, the hype and the adulation of this definite super-group completely passed me by. I’m not a complete doofus though – I may have never had the urge to listen to a TCV track prior to the night before the gig (…half-arsed research, you know?), but Josh Homme – dear Lord, has my eternal respect. And seriously, for the entire duration of my 16th year, I listened to almost nothing apart from Led Zeppelin (I broke my cd stereo in a rage [note: it was shit, and deserved it], and had to listen to vinyl until my father took the cd player to be fixed – it took him a year). If we push the personal history back just a little bit further, from ages 11 to 13 I harboured an intense obsession with Nirvana. Grohl lost me entirely with the Foo Fighters, but the magnitude of the band’s music domination meant they were impossible to avoid.

It was effing hot on Friday night. And Festival Hall is no cool oasis. I’ll never forget a story a friend told me about seeing the White Stripes there in 2006. Again, it was a balmy evening; the temperature inside the hall, with all those mushy, sweaty, uber-hyped bodies squished and squirming against each other. At one point in the evening, as the temperature peaked and sweat started to evaporate, a mini-weather phenomenon occurred within the very room. Above the main portion of the audience, the evaporated sweat conglomerated into a rain cloud of sorts, and began whisping down on the people below. Now, whether such a phenomenon can occur or not, it certainly highlights Festival Hall’s ‘issues’ with ventilation. And needless to say, I kept safe and clean towards the back of the room.

As soon as the band took to the stage, the temperature soared by at least six degrees. I’m not even slightly exaggerating. The room was packed. And though I had no real expectations, in that short moment before the band took to the stage, I truly felt excited to be witnessing an act of this size. True, I may have been to a lot of shows in my time, but I can’t quite remember going to one as huge as this. It took me around 20 minutes to even get in the door – every single person was being patted down by security, as well subject to full bag searches. Is this just procedure at Festival Hall now, or is it indicative of the act playing?

The first few songs were pretty effing great. No. Let me correct that. The opening track (let me find the name of it…)… was killer. K-I-L-L-E-R. A beautifully abstract construction and West Coast desert-y guitar riff dominated the composition, it was delivered crystal clear and encompassed everything wonderful about Josh Homme’s unique style of songwriting. It weaved in and out of tempo changes, melded solos with a quirky solid hook, and was topped off by Homme’s magnetic voice. The crowd – not just for this track, but the entire set – lapped it up. And, you know, so did I. Instinctively, I reached for my mobile phone, texting interested parties that TCV were amazing – how glad I was to be there. The second track, much of the same. John Paul Jones switched from the guitar he was playing on the first song to bass, and bridged throughout with a slap-bass routine that the crowd went absolutely wild for.

Let it be known that, execution-wise, nothing could be faulted with TCV’s performance. Dave Grohl was a powerhouse vision behind the drums. Homme looked as comfortable and swanky as he always does. And who’d expect anything less than perfection from John Paul Jones? Really? I’m wondering if there is a line I should be carefully walking here though, because after the first couple of tracks, I kind of lost interest. It was hot in there. It was bloody loud. And I kind of felt I’d heard it all before. To me, there’s something really valuable about imperfection in a live performance. It’s what turns a show, a performer or a song into an experience – a unique moment shared only by those who were there. And while, of course given the subjects we’re discussing in TCV, proficiency is a given, compared to a QOTSA show, there was something primitive, intuitive and visceral missing. TCV are not QOTSA. Duh. But their music isn’t very different. If I had to part with over a hundred bucks, and had the choice between Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of the Stone Age, I know who I’d choose to see. Super-group or no super-group.

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