Live Review: Queens of the Stone Age in Boston, 12.13.13

I’d never seen Queens of the Stone Age before. Had plenty of chances to, for sure, but I was always worried that going to a show would make me like the band less. It wasn’t until earlier this year when I sat, transfixed, and watched the online broadcast of the band playing the entirety of 2013′s …Like Clockwork (review here) as well as other selections from their catalog that I finally said to myself, “Well maybe now’s the time.” The band around guitarist/vocalist Josh Homme – guitarist/backing vocalist Troy Van Leeuwen (who seems to set a standard of wardrobe for the others to match), guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita, bassist Michael Shuman and drummer Jon Theodore — sounded so tight and the …Like Clockwork material was so dead-on to how it came across on the album, I decided that at the risk of coming out of it less of a fan of the band than I went in and generally not liking arena shows either as a concept or reality, it was worth showing up.

That was back in May. This past cold Friday night at Boston University’s Agganis Arena found Queens of the Stone Age no less righteous in their execution, most especially of the newer songs, but also in general. They put on a crisp, professional-grade show. Opening act The Kills were chic enough that I felt like a hick looking at a magazine ad for a product I couldn’t afford and that almost certainly wouldn’t fit anyway, but another example of the malleable nature of a Stooges influence if nothing else, though vocalist Alison Mosshart‘s strut was pure Jagger more than Iggy Pop, so take that for what it’s worth in my assessment of influence. There were four percussionists behind them — so far away on a big arena stage — but a drum machine going as well, which I didn’t understand, but whatever. I’m not sure they were doing anything rhythmically that a single drummer or two wouldn’t have been able to handle, but the contrast of spectacle with minimalism seemed to be part of the fun. Fair enough.

Not my thing as much as I have one, but neither am I inclined to call a dogwhistle broken just because I can’t hear it. To The Kills‘ credit, they managed to bring an intimate vibe — albeit one highly stylized — to a venue that boasts of holding 7,200 people. In that sense, they served well to warm up the crowd for Queens of the Stone Age, who arrived on stage following a 60-second countdown and launched their set with a firm one-two-three punch in “You Think I ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire” and “No One Knows” from 2002′s Songs for the Deaf and plunging into the upbeat first single from …Like Clockwork, “My God is the Sun,” arguably the most “desert rock” moment on the latest album and a decent fit alongside the older material for its forward rush and sand-dune thematic. Not surprisingly, “No One Knows,” which was arguably the mega-single that broke the band commercially, garnered a huge response.

As one would have to expect with its relevance and commercial success, …Like Clockwork featured heavily in the set, with eight of the total 10 tracks being aired — only “I Appear Missing” and opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” were shelved, much to my dismay in the case of the former — and as it would have to, that came at the expense of other songs. Can’t do “Mexicola” if you’re doing “If I Had a Tail.” No room for “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” if you want to push “Smooth Sailing.” Fine. As huge as the record was, I couldn’t really begrudge the Elvis-wiggling Homme and the rest of the band wanting to play new songs. If I wanted to see “Mexicola,” maybe I should’ve showed up a decade ago when I was hemming and hawing about it — or, you know, two years ago when they toured playing that whole album in honor of the reissue. And both “Monsters in the Parasol” and “Better Living through Chemistry” from 2000′s sophomore outing, Rated R, were included, so there was a nod to the beginnings of the band there.

“Better Living through Chemistry” was especially potent in its druggy and meandering way, snapped back to reality at the end as an early example of the scope of Homme‘s songwriting. At the show, it followed after “Fairweather Friends,” a highlight cut from  …Like Clockwork‘s B-side not the least because of Sir Elton John‘s guest appearance, which in turn was positioned after “Make it wit Chu” and “Sick, Sick, Sick” from 2007′s Era Vulgaris. Kind of a strange sequence there, but I wouldn’t argue if you told me that was the whole point. Though it was more subdued, the progression of “…Like Clockwork” into Lullabies to Paralyze (2005) brooder “I Never Came” made sense as it started to pick up into “If I Had a Tail,” but “Kalopsia” might’ve been the high point of the whole night. The band more or less sounds like it was constructed in order to be able to pull off that track. I know that’s not the case — Van Leeuwen and Shuman have been on board for years, even if Fertita and Theodore are relatively new — but that’s how it sounded. And of course they nailed it, even down to the dreamy midsection peppered with lighthearted delivery of the song’s title. All systems functional.

When they kicked into “Go with the Flow” to put the cap on the pre-encore portion of the set, the charge was so fast that I didn’t even recognize it at the first line. That could’ve been an effect of where I was sitting, but I managed to catch up before the verse kicked in. That would wind up being the final highlight, as the encore of “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” an extended “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “A Song for the Dead” seemed uneven. Maybe it was the immediate jump from Homme sitting at a piano asking, “Does anyone ever get this right?” to namedropping drugs that didn’t quite work, but Queens of the Stone Age seemed to be working off two different impulses — one a mature arena rock professional delivery, cold if ably done — and the other a more chaotic and dangerous entity, stumbling around stage and assaulting with feedback, drawling out a chorus of “Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol.” I felt like I was at Sesame Street trying to puzzle through “one of these is not like the other.”

Of course, when “A Song for the Dead” kicked in, it didn’t matter. Standing on top a short stack of amplifiers, Homme was every bit stewing in the wash of noise the band created, and the rush was irresistible; despite the size of the room, the space on the stage, the “no bags” rule at the Agganis Arena and anything else, there was an element of danger that had reared its head a couple times throughout. Then the show was over and it was time to go sit in the underground parking lot for half an hour waiting to make my way back to Comm Ave. I was still home before midnight, and no less a fan of the band than when I’d left.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Queens of the Stone Age

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2 Responses to “Live Review: Queens of the Stone Age in Boston, 12.13.13”

  1. TVsRoss says:

    Great pics. I’m shocked you’ve never seen them before this! I’ve only seen them once before (in the ‘Duluth’ tour at Northern Lights in upstate NY – to this day one of the best shows I’ve ever seen). I saw them the next night in Brooklyn and by the time the show was over I had completely forgotten I was in an arena. I wish the set was longer, but I guess there’s something to be said for leaving the crowd wanting more.

    Also, you’re totally right about Kalopsia. I would’ve thought they’d leave that song off if anything, but they nailed it.

    Oh and I can’t be the only one who thought that The Kills would’ve been better if they ditched the drum line/ backup singers (who came out for one song) and just Godflesh’d it, right? I kept giggling at all the choreographed moves.

  2. MV says:

    Nice review, thank you for posting it.
    TVsRoss, that Northern Lights show was really, really amazing.

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