Monday, August 23rd 2010
Shows: Queens Of The Stone Age
The truly great shows are the ones that have certain moments. Moments that stand out amongst all the other shows you’ve been to. Moments that you will tell your friends about for years to come. Moments that matter.
This show was as unpredictable as it was endearing, and it will be remembered as a pinnacle to the diverse and few desert rock scenesters that were fortunate enough to witness it firsthand.
Back in June, it was revealed that bassist Brian O’ Connor (Eagles Of Death Metal) was fighting a form of cancer for which he would be required to undergo rounds of chemotherapy. Shortly after the diagnosis, two benefit shows were announced to help with Brian’s medical bills, the latter being held at the 2,300 capacity Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Queens Of The Stone Age would make their first appearance onstage in the U.S. in over two years, with help from Eagles of Death Metal, Alain Johannes and roughly half the Arctic Monkeys.
Anticipation and speculation ran wild online. Who would man the skins for both bands? Which special guests were they alluding to? Would Boots Electric’s (AKA Eagles Of Death Metal’s vocalist Jesse Hughes) mighty mustache take over the world?
A lot of things were up in the air.
Exuding a confidence I couldn’t even begin to understand as the show began, frontman Jesse Hughes rolled out onstage concealed in a bright gold Eagles of Death Metal cape. Eagles bassist Brian O’Connor, the man of the night, made his way out modestly as the audience showered him with cheers and well wishes.
Hughes ditched his cape revealing a t-shirt tuxedo before launching into I Only Want You, the first of many sex-charged Stones-esque fist-pumpers. The show quickly became a rock n roll family Christmas card photo moment when Hughes’ son was invited on stage. He eagerly walked over to his father and later embraced everyone in the band.
Drummer Joey Castillo was effortlessly rolling through the first of two sets he would play on this night, and could be seen continuously trying to coerce QOTSA vocalist and desert-rock maestro Josh Homme to take over on drums for a little guest spot. Homme did eventually make his way out on stage, but only to mention that O’Connor had delayed his chemo treatment to be at the show and to thank the audience.
The energy trickled through the masses and peaked at the mid-way point of the hour long set when they whipped through I Got A Feeling (She’s Just Nineteen), Secret Plans and their original bread and butter hit Cherry Cola (yet, oddly they left out their two biggest hits I Want You So Hard and Wannabe In LA).
The brilliance of EODM is in their electric simplicity. The songs aren’t always captivating, but the way they are conveyed onstage definitely is. They let you in, you shake your ass, and everybody leaves happy. But it wasn’t time to leave yet.
As the band headed off stage the audience was left to wonder who would be playing next. Former QOTSA member Alain Johannes was greeting fans in line before the show and Arctic Monkeys front man Alex Turner was spotted nearby. Inside the venue, estranged QOTSA bass player/vocalist Nick Oliveri was watching the show from the balcony leading to all kinds of assumptions and a handful of screaming girls trying to get his attention from below.
Homme made his way out on stage briefly to introduce the Last Shadow Puppets; a two-piece comprised of Alex Turner (who Homme worked with during the production of the Arctic Monkeys third full length release Humbug) and Miles Kane (The Little Flames). Dressed in tight dress suits and resembling John and Paul from the With The Beatles album cover, the duo started with The Age Of The Understatement, a song that would be best described as the Arctic Monkeys meets Sergio Leone.
Even without the orchestral elements that galvanized the group’s sound on their full-length debut album (arranged by Owen Pallet, on and off again member of the Arcade Fire), they managed to pull off a mesmerizing mini-set. The two Brits met on a 2005 tour and decided to record together in 2007, but their vocal chemistry on stage was redolent of a group with many more years of touring in their collective rearview mirror.
A short set change later and Alain Johannes took to the stage with what appeared to be an 8-string cigar-box guitar, and began to dazzle a hushed capacity crowd. Despite being an exceptionally talented multi-instrumentalist, Johannes has often tinkered away in the background while the people around him have played to role of rock-star.
Songs of love and tragedy from his phenomenally moving new solo album Spark, which will be released on October 5th, had fans in state of silent admiration. It was a stark contrast to the audience that was jumping around and singing along to lyrics like “I razamataz you honey, if you want me to” a mere 40 minutes earlier.
Johannes’ strumming hand was an unrecognizable blur for most of the mini-set, which included a stirring performance of the song Making A Cross from the LP Desert Sessions 7 & 8.
As great as all of this was, it was all a mere pretense to the awesomeness that unfolded next. Enter Queens Of The Stone Age.
Assembling on stage for the first time since August of 2008, and with menacing precision, Homme and co. unleashed a torrentially stunning Misfit Love as the lights pulsated and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen leapt into the air without inhibition.
The five-piece tore through hallucinogenic-anthem Feel Good Hit Of The Summer and The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret from Rated R (2000) without hesitation, revealing a theme for the night: two-songs sets from each album. Avoiding the superfluous and unimaginative pitfalls that their modern rock contemporaries rely upon, Queens’ left the fate of the performance in the reliable hands of their music.
Despite this being the 6th time I had seen Queens live I still had no idea which songs they would play because their set-lists have always been quite diverse. Careening through their back catalogue they intermingled chart-topping hits (3’s & 7’s, No One Knows, Little Sister) with gems like the wistful final track on Lullabies To Paralyze (2005) Long Slow Goodbye, which Homme dedicated to Johannes’ late wife (and QOTSA bandmate) Natasha Schneider. Their cohesive on-stage vigor was a telltale story of a band that had been waiting far to long to perform together again.
During the two years Queens’ had been on hiatus, Homme’s collaboration with Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), collectively known as Them Crooked Vultures became an international touring success following the release of their utterly phenomenal self-titled debut album in late 2009.
Simultaneously, multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita toured and recorded with The Dead Weather, Troy Van Leeuwen created Sweethead, bassist Michael Shuman started Mini Mansions and drummer Joey Castillo toured with Eagles Of Death Metal.
Despite being apart for so song, they performed like they were three months into a world tour: unrelenting and tight.
The band capped off their main set with the menacing low-tempo I Think I Lost My Headache before departing the stage. This was when my moment occurred. The moment a stage tech made his way out to set up a microphone at centre stage. It could only mean one thing.
The band headed back on stage and the audience erupted as a dark haired figure slowly followed. For the first time in nearly 5 years, former contributing vocalist Mark Lanegan took hold of that microphone and led the band through a delightfully menacing four-song encore set. Their dark silhouettes standing out from a blue backdrop, the now six-piece performed Rated R’s In The Fade highlighted by Lanegan’s tortured low frequency vocals and an improvised Homme guitar solo.
Spotlights were cast on each member of the band, but Lanegan remained in the dark, typical to his shadowy, lone-wolf persona.
The band then shifted to their magnum opus, Songs For The Deaf for the remainder of the set. The outside world melted away to the trancy bass line and unhurried riffage of God Is In The Radio, a song that encompasses the dynamics that are so desperately absent in rock music these days.
They then concluded the set with a furious rendition of Song For The Dead which was all the more augmented by Lanegan’s subhuman rasp.
As all of the night’s performers made their way out for a group hug/photo, Brian O’Connor took to that same microphone to express his sincere gratitude for the turnout and support. At the same time, I realized I had just taken in a moment. A moment that mattered.