“It’s just us tonight,” Josh Homme says, seducing the crowd at the sold-out Palace Theater. He is the driving force, guitarist, singer, and songwriter for his flagship group, Queens of the Stone Age, and he gives us a little smile as he takes a drag from his cigarette. “Forget about everything else. It’s Saturday night.”
It is not Saturday night, but Homme doesn’t care. To him, it’s always Saturday night.
“I’m just the right amount of intoxicated,” he claims, smiling again. “Wait…”
He saunters to his rig and retrieves a plastic red cup. He takes his time, returning to the microphone before taking a sip. “Now it’s just right.”
Homme is the last relevant Rockabilly frontman. He built the sound of his band (and his own image) around bygone icons of ‘cool’— using the swaggerer and sneer of Elvis, the energy of Chuck Berry, and the laid-back, who-gives-a-fuck attitude of 90s grunge to boogie his way around the fringes of mainstream success.
As he plays, he taps his pointed cowboy boot and swings his foot outward, cocking his head like a rooster, perching on the stage with a casual dominance, opening his stance to let the audience in. He occasionally spits on his hand to facilitate movement on the neck of his guitar. He provokes the audience to dance, offers them drinks, and radiates boyish sexuality and aw-shucks humor.
He is also smart enough to embrace his strengths. While he may not be the best vocalist or guitarist on the block, he presents a tight ship of rock and focuses on making sure his audience gets their money’s worth.
And he is passionate about what he does. Earlier in the evening, if one was observant, one caught the first glimpse of the lead singer as he jammed along to the opening act, Broncho.
Homme enjoyed himself as the Oklahoma band offered up a strange collage of sound and visuals. The quartet consisted of a bopping, inexplicable-trenchcoat wearing singer, the quintessential stone-faced girl bass player, the muscle-shirt clad lead guitarist, and the drummer-obscured-by-guitar-amps. They played a twenty-minute set where the only discernible vocals were ‘Yips’ and ‘Woos’ set to music that sounded like old Cars riffs filtered through dirty bong water. It was palatable, especially since it seemed as though any of the band members could have keeled over at any moment.
After that came the Scottish group Biffy Clyro. Before the show, I was filled in on the history of Biffy by Eric and Nicki, two passionate fans who had come to the show specifically to see the group. We pressed into the rail in front of the stage and Eric let us know we could slide over into their spots after Biffy’s set. He was here for them, and he was stoked.
Biffy Clyro is, apparently, a big deal in Europe. It’s easy to see why. They’ve played some shows in America recently, including a stop at the Turf Club in Saint Paul, and tonight they delivered a powerful set. Their music is filled with tempo and dynamic changes and an easy technical prowess. The band couples that energy with dancing, prancing, screaming, and singing that won over the uninformed American audience from the get-go.
It was a perfect atmospheric set-up for the grinding noise rock of Queens of the Stone Age, who mosey onto the stage around 9 p.m. with all the confidence of the rock veterans they have become.
After settling in with “Regular John,” a deep cut from the band’s 1998 self-titled album, Homme and his bandmates— most of whom have established residence in what was once a revolving cast of players in QOTSA— go straight for the throat.
They smack around phallic light poles that litter the stage, adding to the chaotic fuzz. They deliver “No One Knows,” arguably the act’s most notable hit, as their second offering. During a prolonged drum solo in the mid-section of the song, Homme takes a breath on the side of the stage, posing for the media photographers before their welcome departure.
“We’re going to play some stuff you know, and some stuff you don’t,” Homme promises. They launch into the new material, playing “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Way You Used To” back-to-back.
Then Homme pauses to address something that must have been on his mind. The new album, Villains, has gotten some flack from longtime fans because of its mainstream, radio-friendly production. “You know, this is a radio show, it’s sponsored by a radio station,” he says. “But who gives a shit about that? They’re playing the songs, but who gives a shit? We’ve been here two times this year, but tonight feels better. Looser. We’re here for you guys. Fuck the radio station.”
It makes me wonder what the radio station (93X, by the way) who sponsored the show thinks of the rant. But then, for whatever reason, I just blindly side with Homme. To see him live is to know that he isn’t playing ball with anyone he doesn’t want to. And we’ve got to have something to rebel against. Someone has to be ‘the man.’ So yeah… fuck the radio.
The band finishes their set, pausing only long enough for the audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to Mikey Shoes (bass), mixing more new material with selections from the catalog. They exit without an encore— another little jab at the expectations of the rock world, a last raised middle finger to the status quo they so consciously avoid. In rock music, if you’re on the inside, you’re dying— and no one knows that better than Queens of the Stone Age.