Queens of the Stone Age embody the spirit of rock and roll to its fullest. Probably more so than any currently active band. Their music is loud but dynamic. Free-thinking and rebellious. It shoots straight from the hip, inspiring both men and women to move their bodies in celebration. The band leader, Joshua Homme, is as magnetic and compelling a singer and songwriter as you’re likely to find. There’s a razor-sharp edge to their music that feels dangerous. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their live show.
Not having seen them since Austin City Limits in 2007 for the ‘Era Vulgaris’ tour and missing them last fall when they returned for ACL, it seemed imperative to see them as much as possible now that they returned to Texas. With that, tickets to both Houston and San Antonio were purchased. Two nights, back-to-back. It’s not the first time I’ve assessed the nuances of a band’s live performance over a short period of time. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that this is an organic experience with no backup singers, no overdubs—just a bunch of guys rocking at maximum volume. While both nights were incredible and unforgettable, each was its own unique beast.
Houston – Bayou Music Center
This is your standard mid-sized amphitheater you’re likely to find in many cities across the country with a general admission floor and a balcony with seats. Driving in from Houston meant missing Chelsea Wolfe and getting a standing position near the back of the floor, so this was watching a band from afar, taking in the whole experience of the venue.
The band walked out on stage and immediately ripped into “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar…” and with barely a pause straight into breakthrough single, “No One Knows,” which obviously delighted the crowd from the number of phones that came out to photo/video. Despite this 1-2 punch of ‘Songs for the Deaf’ tracks the majority of the setlist was songs from their stunning album from last year, ‘…Like Clockwork.’ Subject matter of that album is particularly dark but that didn’t seem to affect the band, who seemed to be having a great time. Kept in perfect time thanks to new drummer extraordinaire Jon Theodore (formerly of The Mars Volta), the band executed the songs exquisitely, but there was a loose sense of fun to the performances.
Homme’s genial candor didn’t seem to affect the audience, and even thought he gushed, “this is a great place. Not every place we play is, but this is great,” most stood motionless, except for a few people sprinkled throughout the crowd. It wasn’t until the 11th song played, “Little Sister,” that the audience seemed to come alive and dance around. Particular highlights of the set came in the form of “Smooth Sailing” that Homme described as being a song about “dancing your way to hell,” the slow-burn of “I Never Came,” and the sexy slink of “Make It Wit Chu.” There was a huge screen with striking imagery for the majority of songs, with the art for ‘…Like Clockwork’ being the most interesting.
Before playing “I Appear Missing,” the audience was bated with words that are now all over the internet. Homme claimed the next song was written by Imagine Dragons, to which the audience gave a great boo. He then proceeded to say “Fuck Imagine Dragons, Fuck The Man, Fuck The Grammys.” He told us he needed to be here with us, playing shows, not “tugging on the man’s dick…not that there’s anything wrong with that.” The crowd cheered and what the internet press didn’t report was him bursting into laughter and saying, “I’m just fucking around, let’s have fun.” It was all in good humor, so relax internet. With a particularly brutal and magnificent rendition of “Song for the Dead” Queens of the Stone Age brought the show to a powerful close.
San Antonio – The Majestic Theater
There are several of these Majestic theaters across the nation and if you ever have the opportunity to see a show at one, you absolutely must. This is an ornate, old theater seemingly better suited for operas and symphonies. The ceiling is painted and lit to look like the night sky and the walls are sculpted to resemble old classic Mexican architecture. Seeing a heavy rock band like this here would be interesting since most of the staff is old enough to be grandparents. With seats in the 11th row, this was going to be completely different experience than last night.
Arriving early this time, I finally got to enjoy Chelsea Wolfe. Her set was atmospheric and noisy, almost psychedelic. The vocals are ethereal but powerful and the light show’s intensity matched the music. If this is any indication of her albums then she is damn good.
Queens opened the concert the same as the previous night, but before this first song was even done, he was tapping someone’s shoulder in the front, telling them to fuck off. Uh-oh, I thought, someone’s already pissed him off. But surprisingly it wasn’t an over-eager fan, but a security guard. He then informed this person to “leave these kids alone, you work for me. We’re all here to have a good time and love each other. We don’t need our mommies and daddies telling us what to do.” Of course the crowd erupted in a huge cheer as he finished the song. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from this moment on and everyone clapped along to every song and danced much more enthusiastically than Houston.
This unfortunate moment did have a serious impact on the show, which was mostly good. After this he kept quiet for the whole first half of the show. Whereas in Houston he was giving intros to nearly every song, he had a whole lot less to say. The performance seemed tighter, with more angst. What didn’t become evident until later in the set was his using this quiet time to drink tequila and smoke cigarettes.
The setlist was very similar, except “I Never Came” and “Misfit Love” were swapped out for debut album track “Avon,” which sounded fantastic and single “3s and 7s” that got the crowd head banging along. One of the standout performances of the night was “I Appear Missing,” which is where he revealed that he had relaxed considerably, turning the end of the song into a long, extended jam, with a tasty solo that Homme exercised like a demon from his guitar, facial gestures seemingly matching his hands’ movements along the neck of the guitar.
There was fun stage banter this night too, with some guy screaming while he was introducing the band, to which he tried to ask the guy’s name but couldn’t hear him and replied, “fuck that guy,” which everyone took as a put down, but he added, “no, I mean someone go up there and have sex with that guy!” Everyone laughed and he then introduced himself saying, “I’m Joshua on the tequila and cigarettes,” which also got a huge cheer. “Make It Wit Chu” had an extra element of fun to it in his inebriated state as he made the finger going into the other motion we all know so well. The regular set ended with a punchy version of “Go With The Flow,” that had the whole theater moving around.
When they reappeared for the encore, Homme sat at the piano to play “Vampyre of Time and Memory,” but unlike last night he asked everyone to get out their lighters and cell phones, that he only wanted the stage and theater lit using these lights. It made the performance all the more moving as he played in relative darkness as a thousand cell phones swayed back and forth. To pick back up the tempo the band played “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” launching the crowd into a near-frenzy.
Capitalizing on this renewed energy the band closed with “Songs for the Dead,” as is their tradition. This rendition of the song was a like a buzz saw to the brain, compelling everyone in the venue to bang their head and move around to the frantic rhythm. With a flash of lights and a brutal final pounding on the drums and guitar, the song ended. Over the sound of thunderous applause and cheering, Homme complimented the beauty of the theater and thanked us again. Everyone filed out slightly dazed, ears ringing and huge grins plastered on their faces. There were several shouts of joy, and a few people could be heard saying, “I think I’ve found my new favorite band.” One of them was probably even me. A live show so good, loud and sweaty that it secures that band’s place as one of your favorites. If that’s not rock and roll, I don’t know what is.
Written & Photographed By Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Senior Writer