Queens of the Stone Age
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Better than: Sanity, sobriety, composure, or decency.
This shit is peaking. We're eighteen songs into Queens of the Stone Age, have howled and head-banged and moshed through 80 minutes of pummeling from a rock band that sounds evil in the way only something sexy can be truly evil, and now the strobes are flashing and three guitars are chugging and some eight thousand people are shouting along to Josh Homme's list of preferred pharmaceuticals and it is The Moment of Total Release, right now. There's a pause and then the room erupts again: "CO-CAINE!"
So the best part isn't until the very end, when the whole place stands up and starts shouting the names of various narcotics, and the band shifts from "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" to the utterly combustible "Song For the Dead" to finish us off. But that is no complaint about the previous hour or so. The theme here is that Queens of the Stone Age -- now basically the last tolerable torch-bearers of mainstream hard rock -- have more brutally effective and terrifically enjoyable songs than you can probably remember: sick, lascivious, dancey, amoral, furious, funny, horny, doing-bad-things-and-loving-it songs. And they are going to remind you how important that bad-ness is to the whole rock 'n' roll equation.
Tonight, on a visit to San Francisco in between Coachella weekends, the Queens give us many highlights from last year's excellent ...Like Clockwork, but the setlist reaches back to the early days of the band, too. The show lasts more than 100 minutes, which is about as much as anyone can take of this kind of volume and energy. Only in a few places does it permit you to even consider getting bored.
Their guitars alone evoke worlds. At one point the collective din of three axes undulates like the spine of some large monster, all serrated and cooly sinister. When the solos hit on "I Appear Missing," you hear the cries of a vulture being torn apart by a hyena -- harsh and high, a screech of consequence. The rhythm guitars on "Sick, Sick, Sick" conjure brittle dread, like a slab of concrete being dragged over gravel.
Prettier is Homme's falsetto. Usually you can make out almost nothing of his lyrics through the overburdened PA, but when the band turns down for the first time on "... Like Clockwork," Homme's voice wafts through the cement cavern with almost perfect composure. Lots of processing and effects, no doubt, but the clarity and precision of it is startling. You realize that part of the reason Homme makes for such a good brute is that he knows how to be a ballerina, too.
At times his songwriting seems to turn the whole band into a drum kit. Guitars, bass, even vocals -- all betray their melodic nature and become percussion instruments for songs like "Avon" or "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire." The redhead in charge calls "Smooth Sailing" a "dance number," and you leave with a greater appreciation for its hip-swaying potential than you came with. Same for "If I Had a Tail," where the Queens do their best swinging Rolling Stones, evoking the same right-feeling wrongness that makes "Stray Cat Blues" so icky and enduring.
Chief Redhead is clearly in a good mood tonight. He keeps telling us what a great crowd we are, reminds us, unnecessarily, that we're supposed to be partying, thanks us for being here "since Kyuss" (his pre-QOTSA band), and even performs "The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died," a freakshow of a song recorded for the 2007 album Era Vulgaris but not included on its U.S. edition, and one which the Internet claims he hasn't played live since 2011. So the vibes tonight are wholly positive. The large screen behind the stage, showing skulls floating on rivers of blood, and a zombie-mummy-type guy falling through amber skies seemingly forever, only to end (splat!) on a street at the close of "I Appear Missing"? That's for atmosphere. That's so you know there's supposed to be something not okay, something your mother wouldn't approve of, in this hard rock stuff. Homme reminds us that there a lot of rules to live by nowadays: don't be this, don't be that. "This song," he says about "If I Had a Tail," "is about fuck all those people." No one here is in any position to argue.
You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire
No One Knows
My God Is the Sun
Burn the Witch
... Like Clockwork
If I Had a Tail
I Appear Missing
I Sat By the Ocean
Sick, Sick, Sick
Go With the Flow
The Vampyre of Time and Memory
Feel Good Hit of the Summer
Song For the Dead