The ornate ceiling of Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom has withstood everything from political rallies to Oasis to The White Stripes, so why should a visit from Them Crooked Vultures be any different? Listening to their debut album, it shouldn’t. The much publicised group of Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones and Josh Homme has received mixed opinions of their LP, from the frothing to the scathing. It seemed that people were either furious to not be getting Songs For The Deaf #2 or else they had convinced themselves the album was all the better for being solely the sum of its parts.
Neither is true of course. It is a fine rock record, albeit one with a few forgettable moments and some of near tedium. But this is live land, and the group are showing off a highly pleasant low-end that doesn’t really come through on record. State is happy as it is trying very hard to suspend the expectation and excitement that come with watching members from three mighty fine bands rock out with each other.
By the way, we failed hugely with this task. It would take a considerable amount of po-faced snobbery to not get swept away by the sheer beauty of the playing and the moshing masses. Grohl and Homme are, after all, among their generation’s finest rock musicians, while Jones is on another scale again. The riffs, augmented by Queens Of The Stone Age family member Alain Johannes, interlock telepathically while Grohl accentuates every note with a thump or a cymbal crash. It’s tight, groovy and hard in the right places. It’s unreconstructed rock and roll, the way it should be. The funk stomp of -Gunmen’ moves every arse in the room as does the -Dead End Friends’ and its badlands blues-isms. Even album low point -Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up’ is transformed into something muscley and engaging.
There’s no denying that, as with every rock group worth its salt, egos are fuelling the whole engine, especially when it comes to the two younger members. You can almost see Jones looking at Grohl thrashing around like it’s a Nirvana video shoot or Homme’s ginger-Elvis shtick and thinking to himself “aww, aren’t they just darling”. The over-riding impression from all three men is a communicable sense of completion and gratitude to each other. From a QOTSA perspective, it’s the most visceral and edgy we’ve seen Homme in a long time.
Opinions of that album will continue to clash, and the same fate may await the follow-up LP the group are hoping to record. All we can say at this point is that State has had one of the best years of its life for live rock music. Shows by The Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Muse, Biffy Clyro (just off the top of our head) saw us going through trousers in 2009 like there was no tomorrow. This night under Blackpool lights sits up there with the very best of them.