Super groups have a nasty history of raising impossible expectations only to fall short. Although Them Crooked Vultures are certainly one of the best projects ever to be saddled with that label, their fierce stand at the Wiltern nonetheless could not transcend it. It’s unfathomable that a band with Led Zeppelin, Kyuss, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and the Foo Fighters on its collective resume could fail to thrill, and during the better half of Tuesday’s 90 minute show, they didn’t. But the band will need to sheer its rougher edges to become more than just an exciting experiment.
Toplining Queens frontman Josh Homme and his longtime co-conspirator Alain Johannes (on lead and backing guitar/vocals, respectively), the Vultures most resembled a steroid-charged version of Homme’s Desert Sessions groups – loose assemblages of open-minded rockers let loose to experiment at will. Powder keg drummer Dave Grohl has, of course, collaborated with Homme before for Queens’ masterwork “Songs for the Deaf,” but it was the inclusion of Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones that made the group truly special, considering his unparalleled ability to transform even the most turgid metal riffs into seductive, swinging grooves.
Homme may be the least famous of the group’s three core elements, but it was his idiosyncratic take on hard rock conventions that supplied the band with a surfeit of swagger. He’s still a more confident songwriter and guitarist than he is a singer, and his vocals were often swallowed up in the Wiltern’s echoing expanse – though his Jack Bruce-like falsetto was wonderful when he did push it to the forefront, particularly on the delightfully adolescent lyrics of show opener “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I.”
Last night’s setlist was almost suicidally front-loaded, as the band lined up its five briskest, catchiest songs all in a row, charging headfirst through “Dead End Friends” – think Nirvana’s “Very Ape” further along the evolutionary chain – and the inhumanly propulsive “Scumbag Blues.” The latter tune allowed Jones a brief bass solo that rivaled that of “The Lemon Song” in its tasteful funkiness.
The last half of the set was dedicated to the shaggier, proggier moments from the band’s self-titled debut (released yesterday), and while “Bandoliers” and the phenomenally-titled “Caligulove” managed to be late standouts, the imbalance between the two halves of the show was jarring. And in a move that was refreshingly unbecoming of the “supergroup” title, Them Crooked Vultures refrained from playing a single song from any of its members’ storied back catalogues.