In a potent KeyArena show Thursday night, Queens of the Stone Age proved it's a rock 'n' roll band that hasn't lost its edge
Since crawling out of the California desert with an arsenal of fuzzed-out riffs, Josh Homme has emerged as one of modern rock’s great anti-heroes. His rise from cult favorite with sludge kings Kyuss to full-blown arena rocker as leader of Queens of the Stone Age is almost as improbable as withstanding the supposed drug binge he may have hinted at in one of his most famous songs.
Even now as a 44-year-old father unopposed to a morning tequila, Homme’s mainstream success is a necessary counterweight in a pop landscape increasingly deprived of guitar bands; a world in which Imagine Dragons – a group for which Homme’s disdain is well documented – once won a best “rock” performance Grammy (beating out Queens).
Still, the bad-boy persona he’s cultivated over the last three decades was kept mostly at bay when his band played KeyArena on Thursday, touring on last year’s “Villains,” its most accessible album since 2002’s breakthrough “Songs for the Deaf.” Fortunately, no photographers were kicked and stage banter was kept to a minimum as Queens plowed through a potent two-hour set.
Vintage rockers Eagles of Death Metal, known to most as the group that was playing the Bataclan in Paris during the 2015 terrorist attacks, started the night channeling the spirit of the ’70s. While the band was founded with Homme on drums, the Queens frontman almost never performs with the group, ceding touring duties to Seattle-area native Jorma Vik, whose homecoming aligned with his father’s birthday.
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Taking a stage lined with 8-foot bendable LED poles, Queens eased into its set with mid-tempo marcher “If I Had a Tail” and a pleasantly shambolic spin through oldie “Monsters in the Parasol.” For most of the night the band (understandably) seemed more energized by its newer material, drawing heavily from its last two albums. An amped-up “My God is the Sun” and the desert-rock-gone-disco “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” got the on-stage juices flowing, even if some of Homme’s vocals got lost in the cavernous arena during the latter funkified party starter.
Still, it’d take a pair of tunes from Queens’ masterpiece “Songs for the Deaf” for the crowd to catch up, and the band fed off their energy. The hard-charging “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” finally loosened up the fans on the floor, while the stabbing lead riff to “No One Knows” – the band’s biggest hit, co-written by Washington native and longtime Homme pal Mark Lanegan – sent a buzz coursing through the big room. A just-fine drum solo got the crowd even more jacked, before Homme took an extended interlude to remind Seattle fans of his local connections.
After Kyuss dissolved, Homme did a few tours with Lanegan’s Screaming Trees and wound up living on Capitol Hill. It was here that the well-coiffed riff monster first formed Queens and played its first show at the O.K. Hotel in Pioneer Square. Ultimately, our dreary winters drove the SoCal native back to the desert, though Thursday he seemed to have a fondness for his brief Seattle tenure, noting he still has family here.
“These are the good nights. These are the nights you don’t want to forget,” Homme told the crowd.
The reformed fuzz god turned heads when he tapped heavyweight pop producer Mark Ronson for Queens’ latest record, “Villains.” Despite the new-found sheen Ronson applied to the synth-happy effort, the “Uptown Funk” culprit masterfully kept Queens’ jagged sound intact (much as he once did with the scruffier Black Lips) while helping them navigate new terrain.
But save for disco-rock bouncer “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” much of the new stuff came off less glammy live. A cyclonic “The Evil Has Landed” veered from unabashed Zeppelin worship to unbridled punkabilly over the course of the locked-in, six-and-a-half-minute burner. While the crowd lapped up pre-encore fan favorite “Go With the Flow,” “Villains of Circumstance” – the new record’s quasi title track and closing opus – proved an oddball highlight earlier on. The spotlight hit Homme like a devilish jazz crooner singing a moonlit monologue, before speed-freak rippers “Little Sister” and “Sick, Sick, Sick” brought everyone back to a scorched earth.
Returning to the stage for a single-song encore, the cage-rattling lead guitar on “Song for the Dead” thrust into a warp-speed smash-and-grab that found Homme slouching into one of those pliable light poles during a nonchalantly screaming guitar solo and another well-received drumming exhibition. Jerky start-and-stops kept the crowd on edge (and the band entertained) before blitzing through the finish line with teeth-gnashing riffage.
Ronson spit-shine or no, this is a rock ‘n’ roll band that hasn’t lost its edge.
Queens of the Stone Age, at KeyArena Thursday, Jan. 25.