Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CD Review: Them Crooked Vultures

When reviewing a new band made up of established musicians, the temptation is to search for comparisons to past works, to evaluate the new based on the old. Sometimes it bears fruit, Chickenfoot is, after all, nothing but another bad Joe Satriani album, admittedly with vocals. them-crooked-vulturesUpon listening to Them Crooked Vultures debut release, the comparisons are begging to be searched out, but the search bears little fruit.

Them Crooked Vultures line-up consists of three significant artists in slightly different areas of rock: Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones; Foo Fighters front man/Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl on drums; Queens of the Stone Age guitarist/singer Josh Homme fronting the band. The result is heavy, pounding rock that hints at the bands roots without ever stealing from them.

During the pre-release live shows Them Crooked Vultures have performed, drummer Grohl has aped his Foo Fighter drummer Tyler Hawkins, with a drumming style that can best be described as bombarding. Constantly in motion, the drumming doesn’t let up. On recording, however, Grohl displays a much more restrained drum style, preferring to stick with the groove, and let the song shine. It is both effective and enhances the music. On the other hand a band fronted by the singer/guitarist from one band is bound to have similarities between the bands. This happens less frequently than you would expect with Queens of the Stone Age/Crooked Vultures front man Homme. Of course it has hints of Queens, as lead singer that’s inevitable. But the risk is always that such a band as Them Crooked Vultures will be an extension of what the front man has always done, and the risk has been nicely avoided here.

Another risk posed by this grouping is that Them Crooked Vultures would become karaoke Led Zeppelin, with Homme having a perennial turn at the microphone. Dave Grohl is an avowed John Bonham fan, and teaming him up on drums with Bonhams rhythm mate Jones, the risk is real that Homme would be playing guitar and singing over an unmistakably Zeppelin back beat. This rap is, too, nicely avoided. Sure, Jones pulls out the clavinet and vamps Trampled Underfoot during Scumbag Blues, the effect is, however, subtle and in the background. In fact, the song borrows far more from Cream than any other known influence. Jones really noticeable creative contribution to this effort is in the arrangement. The songs, almost without fail, twist and turn, bridges with no connection to the song, Codas from left field, time changes, all staples of the Led Zeppelin catalogue, and common through this disk.

If we’re comparing Them Crooked Vultures to Led Zeppelin, however, it should also be noted to the negative that what Them Crooked Vultures lacks is some of Jimmy Page’s famous, “light and shade.” There are few respites from the very heavy, grinding hard edges rock music. No ballads, no light spots outside of psychedelic 60’s tinged Interlude with Ludes, that sounds like a reject from Jones days producing Sunshine Superman, a brass band coda on Mind Eraser no Chaser, a Bontemi Organ ending to Caligulove, and the piano intro to Spinning in Daffodils. The otherwise lack of breathing space may be the bands weakest spot.

It’s strength? The songs. A constant array of solid blues based rockers, including the opening single, the eminently catchy New Fang, No One Loves Me and Neither Do I, The Bowie meets Hendrix Mind Eraser, No Chaser, Elephants, Bandoliers and the aforementioned Scumbag Blues. All superior songs that more than compensate for a few weaker numbers towards disks end.

Being a fan of earlier rock and roll, I like to play a game with new CDs that come out. I trim the song line-up down to 8 or 9 songs - 40-45 minutes of music - as an LP would have been in the 70’s. It offers a fairer comparison between a newer CD and an older album, where much of the excess that makes it to a CD would get cut in mastering. Here’s what I get
Side one

No One Loves Me
Mind Eraser No Chaser
New Fang

Side Two

Scumbag Blues
Warsaw or The First Breath You Take

That’s an album that belongs in my collection. Two sides of great music that blend together into a nice whole. A great album. As it is, Them Crooked Vultures is one of the best albums in a long time, strong songs played with extremely high musicianship in an album of unapologetic rock. What more where you looking for?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kitchener Nov 4, 1969

[caption id="attachment_174" align="alignright" width="144" caption="This as began appearing Oct. 11, indicating the show had been booked approximately four weeks before the show"]img002[/caption]

In November 1969, Led Zeppelin was a young rising band. Their first album, released in January of 1969, went to number 11 in the Canadian album charts. They toured North America relentlessly, including 3 stops in Toronto, beginning their fourth American tour on October 17, five days before the release of their second album. That second album would reach number one worldwide and launch Led Zeppelin into the 1970s, the decade in which they would dominate the rock world. The only single from Led Zeppelin II, Whole Lotta Love, would go on to reach number 4 in the Billboard charts and become one of rock's ubiquitous classics. Led Zeppelin was on the rise, and Kitchener Ontario, population approximately 100,000, would have an opportunity to see Led Zeppelin before they became too big for shows in front of 2,000 people.

"Jimmy Page is Led Zeppelin." So begins the K-W Records Jim Clements in reviewing Led Zeppelin's Nov 4, 1969 show. The concert was performed to a less than full house of 2,000 fans, mostly university students. Iron Butterfly had played the week before at University of Waterloo, and $4.00 and $5.00 for tickets was considered high for the time. The show was shorter than usual Led Zeppelin fare: drummer John Bonham was ailing, and his showpiece Moby Dick was missing from the set list, as was Jimmy Page's Indian themed solo White Summer/Black Mountain Side due to a blown amplifier. Singer Robert Plant was having voice problems as well. The three issues combined meant the usual 90 minute set was a 45 minute affair.

For all the above, reviews of the evening were positive, noting the skill of the musicians, Page's virtuosity ("he stuns and amazes..." says Dave Fairfield), Plant's vocal counterpart and solid back beat of the rhythm section. The crowd was "with it..." according to Jimmy Page, calling for an encore despite the problems the band encountered. Kitchener Memorial Arena was a less than perfect acoustic environment, yet the set up was done "in such a way that everyone could see and hear the performance."

[caption id="attachment_173" align="alignleft" width="116" caption="Jimmy Page with his sunburst Les Paul"]img001[/caption]

An enthusiastic audience is hardly surprising. Led Zeppelin would go on to become very well known for their outstanding live shows and from the very first shows they were noted as exceptional. Yet their was little of the shows in late 1969 that would resemble the Led Zeppelin concerts that the band would become so well known for. Granted, Jimmy Page had replaced his paisley telecaster guitar with a sunburst Les Paul as his main stage instrument. The guitar, sold to him by Joe Walsh, is the one he would use to define what rock guitarists should look like, and be immortalized in Paul McCartney's Rock Show. But little else would be familiar to those who saw Led Zeppelin even a year or two later. The set list was dominated by songs that would soon be gone: Good Times Bad Tomes, Communication Breakdown, I Can't Quit You Babe, What is and What Should Never Be, How Many More Times. All would cease to be performed in the near future. Whole Lotta Love, not yet in their set list, would become a vital component to the Led Zeppelin experience within a month.

Noted in later years for his strong stage presence, on this night Page, "rarely took his eyes from the guitar long enough to look at the audience." Stage clothes in 1969 lacked the pizazz of later years, Page appearing in Kitchener in jeans and a peach t-shirt, Plant in jeans and white t-shirt with black logo. Page was at this stage, however, playing his guitar with a violin bow, a holdover from his days with the Yardbirds and a showpiece of Led Zeppelin shows from their first show through to their last performances in 1980.

[caption id="attachment_175" align="alignright" width="126" caption="The ad changed the day of the concert"]img003[/caption]

If you saw Led Zeppelin in Kitchener on November 4, 1969, you saw a Led Zeppelin vastly different from the band who travel the world by private jet in a few short years. Two years away from Stairway to Heaven the music was much more raw, the performance much less polished. But you also saw a hungry band of talented musicians, paying their dues, giving an undoubtedly powerful performance. If you saw Led Zeppelin in 1969, you saw them when it was virtually the last chance to see them in an intimate environment. Beginning early 1970, they would play major halls and arenas, and never return to smaller venues.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mind Eraser No Chaser Free on iTunes

Them Crooked Vultures, who's debut album is due for release Nov 16 release her in North America, have made the albums second single, Mind Eraser, No Chaser available for free download on iTunes. This offer is available until Monday November 9th.

While you are there, the first single, New Fang, is available for $1.29, and the album can be pre-ordered for $11.99.

As well, the album, in CD or vinyl format, can be pre-ordered from Amazon

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It Might Get Loud DVD Release

it-might-get-loudIt Might Get Loud, the theatrical documentary featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, will be released on DVD and Blue Ray on December 22nd, just in time for last minute Christmas shoppers.

Retail price is set at $27.96 for DVD, $37.95 for blue ray.

And yes, I would love a copy under the Christmas tree honey.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures: Sound Academy Toronto


Them Crooked Vultures, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Foo Fighter's/Nirvana's Dave Grohl, Queen of a Stones Age's Josh Homme, and Alain Johannes, stepped on the Sound Academy stage in Toronto without fanfare or introduction, and spent an hour and a half blowing the roof off the place. Loud, tight and played at a pace that can rightfully be described as frantic, Them Crooked Vultures didn't let up from beginning to end.

The show began with Elephants, shifting time signatures throughout, Them Crooked Vultures announced immediately they weren't just another band. John Paul Jones stepped out with an 8 string bass, img_0043but didn't stay with it long as he changed instruments with every song: the 8 string, a regular bass, a slide bass, a keytar, piano, and a baritone jogamathingy, complete with skyward facing strings and built in TV set (lest he miss his favorite soccer team?).

Jones played  with a relaxed calm that belied the thunderous power emanating from himself and his band-mates. Looking at his ease and enjoying himself, Jones even stepped to the microphone for a call and response type verse. His piano solo was shorter than fans of his earlier work are used to, but satisfactorily familiar for that. I couldn't help but wonder if he would call his new piano solo two-bits, as his ex-band mates had stolen no quarter from him in an earlier incarnation.

Unlike Jones' calm detached concentration, drummer Dave Grohl was channeling the Muppets Animal: head bobbing, hair flying, sticks pounding in a frantic blast of timekeeping. Unfortunately, Grohl eschewed a drum riser (or at lease a riser of any significance), making him virtually invisible over heads in the packed house. That aside, his playing was top notch, showing no signs of rust for having spent the past ten years fronting the Foo Fighters instead of drumming.  It's not easy to keep in drummer shape, but Grohl kept it up for the full set, with no breath catching ballads to be found. Alain Johannes filled out the rhythm section with solid guitar duties, as well as playing bass when Jones' played his horizontal slide TV.

As a guitar player I can say with authority it would be a dream to play in front of such a rhythm section, but at the end of the day, Them Crooked Vultures are a Josh Homme vehicle as much as anything else. He fronts the band, he sings, he plays lead guitar. However, Homme's vocal was lower in the mix than is usual, and the vocals got lost in the thunderclap rhythm section. Technical nit-pickery aside, Them Crooked Vultures blew away a jam packed house at The Sound Academy, a startling achievement considering none of the music is available for public consumption as of yet.

Setlist (from setlist.fm)

  1. Elephants

  2. Dead End Friends

  3. Scumbag Blues

  4. Gunman

  5. Caligulove

  6. New Fang

  7. Bandoliers

  8. Interlude w/ ludes

  9. Reptiles

  10. Daffodils

  11. Mind Eraser

  12. Nobody Loves Me

  13. Warsaw



No introduction necessary: Singer Homme introduced Dave Grohl and Alain Johannes, but when it came to Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, he merely pointed to Jones side of the stage before the crowd roared in approval. Despite the lack of formal introduction, by evenings end chants of "John Paul Jones, John Paul Jones..." could be heard between songs.

The very strict no camera policy seen at some TCV shows seemed to relax on this evening, possibly because the size of the crowd made any form of enforcement impossible. That said, heavy use of back lighting by the band made taking decent pictures a challenge.

A variety of t-shirts, as well as a touque style hat was available for sale.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It Got Loud

It Might Get Loud, the guitarist documentary featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, returned to Toronto, where it was premiered the the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, allowing me to finally catch a viewing.

The documentary brings the three guitarists together to jam, talk guitar and share experiences. The meeting of the fingers is supplemented by following each guitarists to a location away from the meeting: U2's The Edge to  Mount Temple secondary school in Dublin, where U2 formed and performed their first gig; Jimmy Page to Headley Grange, the Victorian mansion where Led Zeppelin recorded their legendary 4th album, as well as Led Zeppelin III and songs that would appear on Physical Graffiti; Jack White is filmed at a home, presumably his, with a young friend in tow, ostensibly 9 year old Jack White. For a guitar geek like myself, and a big time Jimmy Page fan, the result is a must see movie.

The three guitarists are blues/rock guys, with wholly different approaches to the genre, made apparent when Jack White is it-might-get-louddiscussing how he dislikes effects pedals while director Davis Guggenheim edits in a forklift carrying The Edge's pedal board (it is an astounding array of pedals).

Throughout the movie Led Zeppelin guitarist Page is treated as the elder statesman, both by the two younger guitarists and by the director himself. The awe on the faces of Jack White and The Edge when Page plays Whole Lotta Love, inspiring The Edge to move to a different position for a better view. Even when they are driving to their various spots for the personal sections, White and The Edge drive themselves, while Page sits in the backseat, elegant in fine coat looking more like a wealthy banker than rock star. All elegance and grace, the only thing missing from the effect is a walking stick.

Musical highlights include Page playing the mandolin part from Battle of Evermore, White playing an old boogie woogie piano song, stomping his foot and singing along barrelhouse style, and The Edge showing how his effects change a simple song into a complex sounding layer of sound. Jointly they play In My Time of Dying and The Weight, with all three sharing in the vocal duties on the latter (Page most reluctantly). Page showing off his Theremin at movies end is also fun.

It might get loud is a treat for fans of each of the artists or their bands, an absolute must see for guitar players and a gift from God for guitar players who are fans of any of the three.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures Tour

Them Crooked Vultures inaugural tour begins in Austin Texas on October 1st, and carries across America for 9 dates in 14 days.  Here are the dates:

October 1st Austin, TX - Stubb'scrookedvultures452
October 2nd Austin, TX - Austin City Limits Festival
October 5th Nashville, TN - War Memorial
October 6th Columbus, OH - LC Pavilion
October 8th Detroit, MI - The Fillmore
October 9th Toronto, Ontario - The Sound Academy
October 11th Boston, MA - House of Blues
October 12th Philadelphia, PA - The Electric Factory
October 14th Washington, DC - 930 Club

Tickets are on sale now for all shows, although some appear sold out.

Ramble On will be at the Toronto show so a full report will be forthcoming.

After the North American Fall Tour, the band will begin a UK Winter Tour in December with 7 shows in 8 days:

them-crooked-vultures-460-100-460-70December 10th Plymouth, England - Pavilions
December 11th Portsmouth, England - Guildhall
December 13th Blackpool, England - Empress Ballroom
December 14th Birmingham, England - O2 Academy
December 15th Edinburgh, Scotland - O2 Academy
December 12th-17th London, England - HMV Hammersmith Apollo

Monday, August 10, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

John Paul Jones new vehicle, Them Crooked Vultures, with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme, debuted at a midnight show at Chicago's Metro. The show was at the lollapalooza after show concert. Reviews are coming in, and they are strong.

For the best information, head to Lemon Squeezings where Steve has an a comprehensive running post on the show.  The Chicago Tribune has the first Them Crooked Vultures review:

[caption id="attachment_130" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Them Crooked Vultures at The Metro"]Them Crooked Vultures at The Metro[/caption]

The term “super group” gets thrown around way too often in rock, but in the case of Them Crooked Vultures, it applies...

...the music has been a mystery; none of the tracks has leaked on the Internet, and the group’s future plans are shrouded in secrecy. After debuting a dozen songs at Metro, the group made it very clear that it’s not only for real, but also has the chance to be the exception to the super-group rule... Crooked Vultures sounded like it was on to something fresh, invigorating and just plain nasty...

History tells us that super groups usually don’t last very long. But at least this particular one is off to a rousing start.

The full twelve song set list is also being reported:
New Fang
Scumbag Blues
Dead End Friends
Mind Eraser
Interlude w/ Ludes
Nobodys Loves Me

The blog Hightower and Jones where even more ebullient about the debut:
Three words: Them Crooked Vultures. Five additional words: are the greatest band ever. On August 10, the Metro was sold out, the house lights went down, the audence screamed and Them Crooked Vultures made their debut. To call it the greatest debut ever is like calling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a mere center or Bruce Lee a simple martial artist. To call it promising would severely downplay the talent of the band's members and the songs that spanned their 77 minute debut.

Holy cow! But tell us how you really felt.

Wyatt, the ZepCowboy, has some images of  merchandise, specifically the poster.


Also on sale was a t-shirt, which is also available online at the  Them Crooked Vultures merchandise store.


The trio also have an album scheduled for October 23rd release, titled according to rumour, "Never Deserved the Future."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Led Zeppelin to Fill Michael Jackson's Glove?

When Michael Jackson died, he left a variety of assets, most of which will be dealt with in his will.

[caption id="attachment_121" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The 02 Marquis"]The 02 Marquis[/caption]

One that will not be is his 50 dates at London's 02 arena. Promoters AEG Live have 50 dates booked at the London site that recently held Led Zeppelin's reunion show, and nobody to fill them.

Many media sources are now reporting that Abba and Led Zeppelin have been approached to share those spots. Abba's Benny Andersson has already denied being approached, and has also stated that if approached the Swedish quartet would decline. That leaves Led Zeppelin.

To be sure, it seems doubtful in the extreme that Robert Plant would agree to such a thing. However, no word, denial or otherwise, has emerged from the Zeppelin camp. Abba was denying this rumour three days ago. It must be a considered possibility that Led Zeppelin is considering the idea, although by considering it I really mean Jimmy Page and Jason Bonham have tied Robert Plant to a chair and are forcing him to watch Brett Michaels Rock of Love re-runs until he says yes. None the less, the silence is interesting.

Maybe for this series of shows, the Zeppeliners will play something from In Through the Out Door, which was recorded at Abba's Polar Studios.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Rumour Persists

There seems to be truth to the rumour that Joshua Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones are working and recording together. The website antiquiet is reporting that the rumours are true, and that we should be excited.

According to Homme's wife, Brody Dalle of Spinnerette:
[the project] is pretty fucking amazing. Just beats and sounds like you’ve never heard before.

Hopefully we'll all soon get to be the judge of that, as Jones is quoted as saying in April he was working on some new music and "we hope to be everywhere by summer."

Hey JPJ - it's summer and we are waiting.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Is John Paul Jones in the Studio?

The blog Plastic Pizza Party is reporting that:
Joshua Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones have been holed up in a Los Angeles recording studio working on a new record. The new band name and record release date are currently TBA … keep your ears peeled kiddos

Obviously I can't verify this report, but an old interview in Mojo of Dave Grohl, that seems to be from around 2005-2006, reports the same thing:
The next project that I'm [Grohl] trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme on guitar, and John Paul Jones playing bass. That's the next album. That wouldn't suck.

So the question:, is this finally happening, or just a re-hash of old information?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reunion in Australia?

Led Zeppelin's relationship with Australia go back to the early days when the band had a hugely successful Australian tour in 1972. Gold coast.com is today reporting that Zeppelin is rumoured to be returning to Australia with a show at the Gold Coast Parklands. While this is one rumour in one town, the report, and common sense, suggests that if Led Zeppelin were to play the Gold Coast it would be as part of a larger tour:
THE Gold Coast could be climbing a stairway to heaven with rumours rife that British rockers Led Zeppelin are heading our way.

It is believed Parklands has been approached to host the concert that would be one of the biggest and best the city has ever seen.

"I know there's been inquiries about it," said Parklands trustee John Howe.

"But you'll have to speak with (Parklands Trust CEO) Richard Murphy.

"I don't know what the latest is but I know there has been an inquiry about it."

However, Mr Murphy was not so forthcoming.

He simply said 'no' to every question put to him by The Bulletin.

When asked if 'no' meant that Led Zeppelin weren't coming or that he could not talk about it, he simple replied: 'No.'

"If I knew anymore I would tell you," he eventually said.

Last year false rumours emerged of a Toronto show, and there's been long standing rumours of something in New York, none of which have come to be. Frankly any reunion hope has died recently as the three members interested in the project seem to be going their own way.

None the less, if your in Australia, as false as this rumour likely is, at least you have a rumour.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss win Five Grammys

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, in a night that will crush Zeppelin fans hoping this whole "Robert Plant as a mediocre crooner" thing will go away, won five Grammys including album of the year.
Sixty-year-old Led Zeppelin belter Robert Plant and 37-year-old bluegrass star Alison Krauss led the way with five Grammy Award wins, including album and record of the year, thanks to their collaborative CD.

Plant and Krauss won two Grammys for Raising Sand -- album of the year and contemporary folk/Americana album -- and three more for songs from that album: Killing The Blues won for country collaboration with vocals, Rich Woman for pop collaboration with vocals, and Please Read The Letter for record of the year.

Ironic that they call him a belter, now that he no longer is belting them out.

Plant and Krauss are currently in pre-production for a follow up to Raising Sand.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Zeppelin Without John Bonham "Incomplete."

In an interview with absolute radio Ben Jones Robert Plant says Led Zeppelin is incomplete with John Bonham:
The reason that it stopped was because we were incomplete, and we've been incomplete now for 29 years...

And the reunion gets farther and farther away.

JavaScript and Adobe Flash player are required to view this clip.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Ramble On can now be found at www.BrianGardiner.ca/RambleOn.

Please change your bookmarks.

Fourty Years Ago

The ball was already rolling on January 12, 1969. Led Zeppelin had performed a small Scandinavian tour the previous September,. before recording the first album. They landed in America on Christmas Eve, 1968, and gave their first American performance in Denver two days later.

Led Zeppelin I
Many of those early performances are legendary, including four nights at Bill Graham's Fillmore  West, ending on this night. But a rock band may be conceived on stage, it is born with it's recordings. On that last night at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, Led Zeppelin was a band with an album. Their first, self titled Led Zeppelin, was released earlier in the day.  In Frank Reddon's Sonic Boom, it is recounted how the record hit the streets and took the rock world by storm.

Forty years later what's surprising is how many of the elements that would make Led Zeppelin the biggest band for the next ten years were already there: Hard driving in Communication Breakdown, Bonham's superior stand out drumming in Good Times Bad Times; the acoustic side of Babe I'm Going To Leave You, the Indian influence and Kashmir tuning of Black Mountain Side; the blues in You Shook Me and I Can't Quit You Baby; and reminiscent of their live shows, in Your Time is Gonna Come and How Many More Times, the band catches a groove and rides it straight through.  Led Zeppelin would grow, develop and mature, but Led Zeppelin, the album, showcased what they were, and what they would always be. The production is startling as well with Led Zeppelin is an album that sounds fresh even today.

Led Zeppelin is the album that started it all, not an album that changed music, but an album that signalled the birth of the band that would do so. However, throwing on the LP and listening to it after forty years, it's an album that deserves to be celebrated on it's own merit alone.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy 65th Birthday...

Jimmy Page.

For us Zeppelin fanatics, 65 years ago today was a magical one, in which the greatest guitarist of the rock 'n' roll generation was born.

Happy Birthday Dr. Jimmy Page, OBE. May you enjoy your pensionable years by travelling the world, preferably with an entourage, three good friends and a Les Paul.

Happy 65th Birthday...

Jimmy Page.

For us Zeppelin fanatics, 65 years ago today was a magical one, in which the greatest guitarist of the rock 'n' roll generation was born.

Happy Birthday Dr. Jimmy Page, OBE. May you enjoy your pensionable years by travelling the world, preferably with an entourage, three good friends and a Les Paul.