Too often, newly formed supergroups are such mutual admiration societies that they get lost in the act of self-love. They forget about the music, instead focusing on the magazine centerfolds, the sexy videos and the insistent talk that what they’re doing is wholly original.
But Them Crooked Vultures approaches its rock ’n’ roll with the carelessness of ’70s punks and the excitement of kids playing together for the first time. They make no bones about their group sounding like the bassist for Led Zeppelin, the drummer from Nirvana and the singer from Queens of the Stone Age jamming together.
“Everybody brought their own influences into the part and molded it into a monster,” said John Paul Jones, 64, the bassist for Them Crooked Vultures and, before that, Led Zeppelin.
“There’s a lot of honesty in the band, musical honesty. There’s no point in throwing something out that you like and do well to try and be different, which is not to say that we don’t push the boundaries of what we do, all three of us, individually and as a group, to see what else is there.
“But you can always follow the paper trail to any one of our influences, whether it’s the blues-rock or the desert stuff or the punk, which are our three main sounds.”
Jones’ work with percussionist Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters singer-guitarist, and Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme is limited so far. The band released an eponymous full-length CD that cracked some critics’ Top 10 lists last year, and they’re touring their way home from the Coachella Music Festival — a jaunt that includes a stop at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium on Monday.
But what we have seen from the group shows a youthful energy, a trusting relationship and some memorable songs that show off these Vultures’ wingspan — and bite. The most obvious point of reference of the songs that fill up “Them Crooked Vultures” is the melodic and playful Queens of the Stone Age material — put through a decidedly classic-rock filter.
The songs are sprawling and fun (“New Fang”) and lawless and challenging (“Mind Eraser, No Chaser”). The harmonies are fascinating, and the hooks are memorable. The three of them have a great energy about them, something they showed off months ago when they wooed a “Saturday Night Live” audience with a couple of raging rock songs.
“We’ve all been doing it for quite a while,” Jones said of the band’s unique energy. “Even from the first jams, it was like, ‘Ooooh, this could be something very good. Now what can we do with it?’”
It’s great to hear Jones, a rock icon since the late ’60s, talk about Homme’s desert aesthetic — a very modern concept.
“It’s also rooted in the blues, but it’s the blues from a different angle,” Jones said of Homme’s style. “Josh likes to call it ‘perverted blues.’ Obviously there are the psychedelic influences, which come around from the ’60s and ’70s, as well. It’s a really nice mix of influences, but he’s also influenced by a lot of other things. It’s not like we all grew up listening to what was around us. There’s lot of soul in what we do.
“There’s a lot of cross-talk in this band, which is nice and exciting, and it gives you a lot of ammunition to fire off in whatever direction you like.”
Grohl calls Jones “a great dude, an incredible player and a down-to-earth guy.”
“Well, that’s about 50 bucks I owe him,” Jones said with a laugh. “Dave is all those things and more. He loves to play the drums. He’s always happy, a smiling face, and he’s never in a bad mood. That’s nice when you’re traveling with somebody. But he just loves to play the drums, and as a bass player, that’s nice. We worked particularly well together.”
There’s certainly some shared admiration in this group, but it hasn’t let them get lazy with their music. They know who they are individually, and by embracing that, they’ve created something that is not completely unique — but it’s certainly infectious and intoxicating and fun.
“It’s all a learning and listening experience in order to make good and interesting music,” said Jones. “You should always be moving and evolving, keeping mobile and on your feet. Right?”
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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier indie music festival. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at Last.fm.