Them Crooked Vultures + Sweethead @ Birmingham Academy – 14th December 2009


Having to support a band surrounded by as much hype as Them Crooked Vultures can go one of two ways. Knowing that all tickets for the entire UK tour sold out in 12 minutes can only mean that all gigs are going to be massive — Knowing that every member of the audience is there only to see TCV must be pretty daunting. Or, it must be an absolute honour who’s first full album was released only one month earlier. After chatting with the band I feel quite sure it’s both daunting and a huge honour in equal measure.


Sweethead sashay onto the stage dressed impeccably with each band member carrying drinks in hand ranging from beer to Jack & Coke. As they launch into the first track Serrina’s voice is barely audible against Troy’s domineering lyrics. Fortunately this is fixed for the second track and we can now fully appreciate all of Serrina’s talents. Despite the blonde bombshell temptress looks; she has a feline like voice that one minute purrs like a pussy cat, then growls like a tiger. I mention all of her talents as several times during the set she almost spills out of her black tasselled mini much to the annoyance of almost all of the male audience and probably a high percentage of the female members too… There are two standout tracks from their stylish rock and roll set. ‘Amazing Vanishing Conquest’ has Serrina singing seductively on her knees in a song style reminiscent of the lo-fi bands of recent years. The final track dedicated to TCV and the entire crew just so happens to be their next standout song. ‘The Great Disruptors’ contains an exceptionally addictive hook that finally the audience fully appreciate.

As a warm up band, Sweethead are hard to beat. They have a style that sets you perfectly for a good night out. That good night out this evening just so happens to feature Them Crooked Vultures…

Supergroups – some are famous (Cream, Traveling Wilburys, Blind Faith, and more recently A Perfect Circle, Audioslave and Velvet Revolver) and some, to me, are not (has anyone heard of Tinted Windows? Go and look them up and try not to snigger at the line up). Them Crooked Vultures are, and will forever be, famous. TCV are Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme on guitar and vocals, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl back behind the drums full time for the first time since Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin bassist extraordinaire John Paul Jones. Grohl talked to Mojo magazine about this line up in 2005, but it took until earlier this year for them to finally enter the studio and record an album which, in my opinion, is the album that QOTSA should have released after Songs For The Deaf. Joining “Queens Of The Zeppelin Fighters” tonight on rhythm guitar is Alain Johannes, also known for touring with QOTSA since 2005 and being in Homme’s wife Brody Dalle’s studio band Spinnerette.


The venue tonight is heaving – unsurprising seeing as the tickets sold out pretty much as soon as they went on sale – and somewhat of a mixed bag. The crowd is definitely more male than female, and for every 60-something out there, there’s a 15 year old at his first gig. And what a gig!


Walking on stage to one of the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard at an Academy sized venue, the band break into their first tune of the evening “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I”. Instantly, the thing that strikes me is that I’m here purely to watch the rhythm section. Homme and Johannes do an amazing job, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. I’m only here to see Grohl pound the shit out of his kit (I’ve seen him drum a little for the Foos, and I had a ticket to see Nirvana, only for Kurt to go and do what he did) and JPJ finger the shit out of his bass (I was five when Bonham died, and then JPJ went and picked up the banjo and has spend most of his time since then pickin’ on some bluegrass) and they don’t let me down. Grohl’s drumming is powerful and relentless – tune after tune of beating his kit into submission, and JPJ playing some of the strangest stringed instruments I’ve ever seen, including an amazing custom bass / lap steel on “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I”.


No matter at what point during the set, a quick glance at the crowd from my seat in the balcony shows me that the crowd is going mental. Moshing and jostling at the front, and heads nodding to Grohl’s and JPJ’s infectious groove. Everyone seems to be having an amazing time, and that’s mostly because they’re witnessing something special – something that could have happened in an arena, or a massive field somewhere, but instead is happening in front of just 3,000 people on a very cold wintery night in Birmingham. Fun!


Midway through their set, I begin to feel sorry for Alain Johannes. I bet there isn’t one person there specifically to see him. He is to TCV what Jim Corr was to The Corrs. And that sent him mad (check out Jim Corr’s website if you don’t believe me!). Although I suppose he’s getting paid to tour with some of rock’s finest musicians, so he probably doesn’t care.


The entire set, which lasts just over 90 minutes, is their album played in it’s entirety, albeit in a different order, and new song “Highway One” which is very much in keeping with the style of the album, and which sees JPJ pick up an electric mandolin and pick away at the furious riff. They attempt to play “Interlude With Ludes”, but not even four roadies can get JPJ’s keytar working, so the rest of the band jam for while, just in case the magic screwdriver can work it’s magic. It doesn’t, and we’re denied the sight of 64 year old man playing an instrument made popular by Top Of The Pops in the ’80’s.


The set finishes with the elephant plodding “Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up”. A girl in the balcony thinks that this song is called “Walsall”, which makes me laugh to myself. A perfect last song of the set – it starts slowly, speeds up in the middle, and finishes with a jam that isn’t so long that you forget what a great evening you’ve had. They lights go up, the band come to the front of the stage, and a group bow means that it’s all over. All over except the whistling in my ears, which still aren’t at 100%.

Thank you to TCV for (a) releasing a great album, (b) for playing Birmingham and (c) for playing a venue smaller than the NIA or LG Arena. I hope you come back for more.


Set list:
No One Loves Me & Neither Do I
Dead End Friends
Scumbag Blues
Highway One
New Fang
Mind Eraser, No Chaser
Interlude With Ludes
Spinning In Daffodils
Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up

Review – Lee Hathaway (Sweethead) & Tony Hackett (TCV)
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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2 thoughts on “Them Crooked Vultures + Sweethead @ Birmingham Academy – 14th December 2009

  1. Wow, that was a phenomenal review. I definitely feel like I was there, including being disappointed at the keytar not working… damn!

    They played in my city, but it was too soon after the album came out and I wasn’t yet into it. Wish they would come back my way.

    Steve Gerrard, congrats on the amazing photos.

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