Queens of the Stone Age
Villains World Tour - O2 Arena, London
(Tuesday 21st November, 2017)
THE last gig I went to…
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
of this magnitude was when I saw The White Stripes at Alexandra Palace back in 2005 – that was when they were promoting their album, Get Behind Me Satan. That was a bittersweet experience because, having travelled all the way there, the duo was late on stage – and I had to get the last train home without seeing them play a single song (less ‘sweet’; completely ‘bitter’, I guess). I was hoping for better luck when I found myself standing outside the O2 Arena last night. The bustle and excitement prior to the gig was palpable: all shapes and sizes of Queens of the Stone Age acolytes assembling, chatting and buzzing outside the venue. Security was tight for the event – as one would expect for something high-profile – but there was a relaxed and easy mood that circled the venue. Nobody felt on-edge and, in fact, the mounting chatter and colourful conversation meant the gig was all set – let’s hope the band could match the expectation! Things started off a little patchy in the sense the support act, Broncho, were a bit of a wasted venture – not many of the assembled crowd were too concerned. Whereas Queens of the Stone Age’s performance generated focus and admiration: their U.S. counterparts barely registered a flicker of excitement. Their music fell between Indie and Alternative: it had a Queens’ touch to it but the songs blended into one; the sound quite generic and forgettable. The quirky and flaccid stage-manner did not help matters – the high-voiced frontman babbling about Queens of the Stone Age, London and other random considerations. Most were pleased when the band finally announced Queens of the Stone Age: getting the giants on stage a few songs earlier would have been a welcomed treat! The lights went down and the cheering started. The buzz and electricity that resounded around the mega-sized arena was shiver-inducing. I, being in Entrance B, Block 407; Row 3, Seat 603, was quite a way up – right in the seating positions with a far-off view of the stage...
The boys swaggered onto the stage and the crowd were sent into a frenzy. It was no surprise the set was filled with intensity and sweat – a selection of AC/DC songs were played before the band came to the stage; to remember the death of the Malcolm Young. Monsters in the Parasol was a rare early treat – from the underrated and stunning, Rated R – and was a definite highlight of the set. As this was a gig to promote their latest album, Villains, it was no surprise to see the album featured heavily. Most audiences, when seeing a legendary band, yearn for the older hits and established favourites: those packed into the O2 Arena were more than happy to hear the latest gems. Feet Don’t Fail Me, The Way You Used to Do and Domesticated Animals were played; The Evil Has Landed and Villains of Circumstance also trotted out – each song given a nice spin and incredible performance. Although the band chose to feature very little material from the albums Queens of the Stone Age and Lullabies to Paralyze – there was a nice spread and selection of anthems and lesser-expected inclusions. Josh Homme, the band’s frontman, was in typically enigmatic and humorous form. I have read other reviews of the band’s U.K. leg (of the Villains tour) and each says the same: the ginger-haired lead was is in a philosophical and deep mood. Mortality and individualism were mantras repeated throughout the set. Showing little anger or rage; Homme was a calm and pondering presence who urged the crowd to think for themselves; today is all that matters, he said – it is all about the here and now. Those words struck a chord with the crowd: few were going to argue with the conviction and passion of Josh Homme. Early set inclusions Smooth Sailing and I Appear Missing were incredibly popular with the fans – I was pleased to see quite a few …Like Clockwork songs peppered through the set! Not only was the band’s fevered and incredibly potent incredible: the fantastic lighting made each song pop and resonate.
Depending on the song; we were treated to various colours and speeds. One number might have blue lighting slowly flickering; bathing the band in warmth. A more vitriolic and energetic number would see diagonal yellow lighting illuminate like a firework display – another might see red lights intersect and flirt. Some of the band’s antics have drawn criticism over the past few days. Josh Homme was caught smoking during their performance in Manchester – you cannot tame the Rock rebel, it seems! In North Greenwich; he was on his best behaviour – albeit, complete with that reliable wit, acid tongue and peculiarity. It was, as Homme insistently proclaimed, Saturday night (in the sense that it was time to party) and he was keen the crowd disobey the safety and calm of the O2 and get dancing – No One Knows gained the biggest cheer of the night as those lucky enough to be within screaming-distance of the band were sent into chaos. It was odd seeing the mass of people below – from that distance, they appeared as crops in a field; tiny figures who, with their phone lights providing coordinates, their own city and community. As the band ripped through No One Knows; the ardent and impassioned fans were chanting and singing with smiles wide – Homme stunned and touched by the incredible rapture and reception. I have mentioned Homme’s pondering and deep thinking – the lead musing issues around death and desire between songs. We are, as Homme stated, all our own bosses. There is no cat or dog food – embarrassing for me as I came in my bespoke Pedigree Chum suit of armour (which drew smirks and derision from the crowds) – and we are not domesticated animals - you can tell which song came after that... On-stage conversation switched between mortality and the need to get the crowd riled and dancing. Asking whether London was having a good time – they/we were, it seemed! – there was no direct political reference; one felt the danger of President Trump was heavy on Homme’s mind. If anything, it was …Like Clockwork’s selections that drew the biggest reactions. Smooth Sailing was a muscular and impressive take; My God Is the Sun one of the most engaging and well-recovered performances on the night – the band’s interpretation of If I Had a Tail and I Appear Missing compelling and fantastic.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
If Queens of the Stone Age's harder and more spiked performances proved popular with fans: their elongated and slower performances gained equal acclaim. Make It with Chu saw Homme in seductive and lounge-lizard mood; a luscious and smooth performance that drew the crowd in and allowed the band chance to improvise and calm. The build-up was inventive whilst the song’s chorus saw the assembled faithful chiming along with every note. Queens of the Stone Age are not a band who turns in predictable sets and diminishing returns! Jon Theodore’s percussion was a particular standout. Allowed to indulge in some monolithic, primal solo-work; the crowd were staggered and hooked by his multi-limbed chops and boundless talent – Homme was moved and affected by the power coming from the back. The biggest enemy of the night was my bladder - which seemed reluctant to quiet down and rest throughout the performance. It wondered whether I wouldn’t mind emptying it when Queens of the Stone Age ripped through You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire; it was curious when they gave Little Sister a rare appearance; it was twinging when The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret was delivered with faultless desire – by Villains of Circumstance, it was getting pretty tetchy (I was not moving!). By the time Go with the Flow was announced – Songs for the Deaf’s two biggest songs got the loudest cheers of the night – I was, ironically, unwilling to refute my bladder any longer. Aside from a few drawbacks – it was would have been nice to hear one or two more from Villains; a few inconsiderate punters blocked the view for a few with their dancing – one could not fault Queens of the Stone Age. From the animal bite of Sick, Sick, Sick to the brood of Villains of Circumstance: the set was proof they are among the finest live acts on the planet. The sheer noise and physicality coming from the stage was enough to blow the likes of me away – all the way up there in the squinting seats! It was, perhaps, Homme’s polemics that made the biggest impression.
The Fonz of the music world; he was getting the crowd pumped, dancing and moving – on this ‘Saturday’ night; the F-words tossed out got laughs and approval. On the other hand, when not getting the party started, the forty-four-year-old was reflective and cautious. If some felt he had taken a few drags of the peace-pipe before coming on stage – oddly calm and relaxed given the occasion and energy raining from every ember and corner of the venue – he made points that struck the crowd. Looking at death, leadership and surveillance (we are all being watched, as he was keen to note); it was a perfect mix of rebellious, cool-as-fu*k ‘Classic Homme’ and the older, wiser frontman. What could not be denied was his love for London – he was at ease and delighted to be among such a loyal and loud crowd; they/we, in turn, provided plenty of love and respect. It was a night that delivered the classic hits and Villains’ new cuts; the career-spanning set was a huge treat for the thousands who poured into the O2 Arena. The band head to Edinburgh’s Usher Hall tomorrow; Dublin’s 3Arena will complete the U.K.-leg of the tour – the reviews and reaction so far have been hugely positive. No wonder when you witness the magic for yourself! A night in with Queens of the Stone Age is an experience few will ever forget. Peerless musicianship, insane energy and a crowd willing to give their all to every sinew, note and movement…
I think Josh Homme approved!