Them Crooked Vultures: Aragon Ballroom, 5.18.10

Fri May 21 2010

Once or twice a year, I go to a show where the sound is so bad, I just can’t get past it.  Been hearing horror stories about the Aragon for years, but I guess I’ve just been lucky for the most part; I usually end up there for jambands, and so far, either these artists actually give a shit about how they sound, or they just have really good sound engineers.  One or both of these factors: not applicable to Them Crooked Vultures.  The sound was better last time I was in the Eagles Ballroom, for chrissakes.

Take my party-poopery with this in mind, though: my woes this evening started well before showtime.  Through a series of convoluted delays I won’t get into, I missed the opening band and at least the first half hour of the headliners.  I was pretty much fine with it by the time I got there, but when I walked into the place, I was just boggled: all I could hear was two guitars cranked way too loud, overpowering even Dave Grohl’s drumming; how is that possible?

I was excited to complete the Zeppelin trio, having never seen John Paul Jones perform before.  I still can’t really say I’ve heard him live.  Tried to go at it from all angles, including the balcony, but his bass was reduced to a toneless thud no matter where I was, and I could filter just enough to make out his organ playing occasionally if I strained, but I was hoping to really dig into some high-octane jams, some real interplay between Jonesy and Josh Homme.  It might’ve been a thrill for the dudes onstage with the monitors, but it was constant frustration for me.

And maybe I was soured, but there were times where Homme was just off on his own trip, playing a repetitive, unimaginative phrase and completely failing to pique Jones’s interest or engage anybody else, eventually relying on Grohl to jump in and provide some sort of climax.  The band was nailing its compositions, as far as I could tell, but there was none of the improvisational camaraderie I'd heard so much about.

If there’s one good thing I can say about the show, it’s that Grohl is still a monster on drums.  I hadn’t seen him behind the kit since 1993, and it was the one saving grace of the show.  He phoned it in the last time I saw the Foo Fighters, but he was 100% committed to the performance tonight.  I'd be perfectly happy if he never picked up a guitar again.

But Homme’s assertion that it was a “special night” or some bullshit towards the end of the show made me laugh.  I don’t buy into this guy’s disingenuous rock star ego trip masquerading as down-to-Earth bonhomie.  Nobody’s following the band night after night, so he can get away with that crap.  What would really be special is if Homme (and every other out-of-touch rock star) told his handlers to tell his agent to tell the tour manager (+unknown levels of sycophant in between) to hire a top-of-the-line sound guy (or gal) and book shows in acoustically-sound rooms.  Why is this so doggone difficult?  If you really give a shit about your fans, how about taking an active role in providing the best possible experience for them?  I’m sick of wasting my money on oblivious assholes.

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