By Josh Adams (@jxshadams)
On paper, the coupling of desert legends Queens of the Stone Age with the prestigious opulent nature of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall reads about as appropriate as a hand grenade in an orphanage, especially considering their stint at the O2 Arena in London only a few nights prior. But in a twist of fate as bizarre as the rock group’s ascension to arena-ready status, you would be hard-pressed to imagine them elsewhere.
Straying from their contemporaries’ aesthetics – Foo Fighters’ workmanlike anthems and Nine Inch Nails’ moody industrial touches – and forging their own path steeped in some warped form of glamour and attitude as filthy as their distorted guitars, Queens of the Stone Age have regularly proved themselves as one of, if not the, most interesting out-and-out rock band to come out of the United States of America in the past twenty years (even if they aren’t as weird as they would like you to believe – unusual song structures and angular guitar solos don’t consistently count as artistry, dudes).
Live, they usually cement this reputation with a killer arsenal of songs and a maintained display of breathtaking musicianship. Their performance at the Usher Hall, however, was ironically almost ruined by the man everyone came to see: frontman Josh Homme, whose rock-sleaze chic veered from humorous to unpredictable, inappropriate and worrying several times throughout the night.
More on that later, though. Oklahoma indie darlings BRONCHO did a respectable job of introducing themselves and their sound, the latter of which was a fuse of melodic ’80s American indie with a dry, 1970s sheen, if not warming up the crowd for the headline act, and the impatience was becoming clear towards the end of the group’s thirty minute long set. In particular, singer Ryan Lindsey’s high-pitched vocals became rather grating, aiming somewhere for Violet Femmes but falling flat at somewhere around a chipmunk version of a drunken Michael Stipe.
Luckily, the changeover between each respective groups’ set of equipment was brief, and by the time the band came on stage, Edinburgh was hungry for the Queens. Opening with the three-pronged salvo of “If I Had A Tail“, “Monsters in the Parasol“, and “My God Is The Sun” – peculiarly none of which came from their most recent effort – it was clear that the band were determined to make everyone, from the stalls to the rafters, groove with their intoxicating beats and hard-hitting riffs.
They followed up their extravagant entrance with a couple of one-two combos that showed off their powerful dynamics: “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Way You Used To Do” from 2017’s “Villains“, and Songs for the Deaf‘s “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” and “No One Knows“. The former sounded utterly massive in a live setting, stripped of the dull and flat production imposed upon them, whilst the latter were performed with a newfound urgency that set the crowd off like firecrackers. From then on, though, the set hits a trough that it only occasionally rises above – the emphasis is put too squarely on a series of mid-to-slow tempo jams that at best serve as singalongs and at their nadir give everyone a chance to go the toilet. “Make It Wit Chu” and “I Appear Missing” retain their emotional impact, and the likes of “Smooth Sailing” and “The Evil Is Landed” encourage appropriate dancing, but the energy levels significantly dipped for cuts such as “Fortress” and “Regular John“, making for a slog of a second third.
It was also around this time in the set that it became very apparent something was very not okay with Josh Homme. The towering singer and lead guitarist for the group has found himself as an unlikely icon for contemporary rock music, what with his crooning voice, his unmistakable ginger hair, and his infectious charisma that straddles the line between charming and greasy, yet somehow always delivered with a sense of self-awareness. But after perhaps maybe a drink too many, and less noticeably so a series of braces wrapped around his arms and legs, his persona became increasingly obnoxious, unbearable and discomforting for all in the room.
At first, it started with a well-meaning but poorly-worded attempt at combating against sexual harassment at concerts; by the time he started throwing phrases around such as: “girls are the best thing in the world!” and “because guys, we all know there’s nothing better than getting laid”, you could hear the groans in the room. Even more shuddering was his attempts to get an attractive woman sitting with her partner in the balcony to reciprocate something as innocuous as a wave in the midst of a rant about trying to spiritually release people – he became doggedly determined to get his way, constantly referring to the woman in question as “baby” and demanding her attention with an inebriated air, despite her clear discomfort with the situation.
It was a definite sign that all was not well in the Queens camp. Looks of exasperation came over Homme’s fellow band members during these tense, prolonged periods of “stage banter” – even more so when he missed his singing cues, forgot lyrics and fumbled his usually impeccable guitar work. For a band that prides themselves on being tighter than any rock ensemble – and the rest of the group did not disappoint, specifically drummer Jon Theodore’s work being consistently astounding – it was glaringly obvious that Homme was not up to the standard he worked so hard to create. Repeated whisperings of “they’re never gonna tear us apart… never…” before “Villains of Circumstance” only confirmed that the frontman was in a dark place.
Thankfully, he seemed to come to on the home stretch, starting with “Little Sister” and leading through the quintessential Queens of “Go With The Flow” and “I Think I Lost My Headache” amongst others. The fury that was becoming increasingly pent up during the drab middle section was finally released by the band and the crowd respectively, with the mosh pits in the Usher Hall unparalleled except for perhaps when Mac DeMarco visited back in August.
Ending on “A Song For The Dead” long after curfew had been broken, there was an air of triumphalism about proceedings, the final song of the night playing no small part in bringing that about – its guitars jagged, its drums pounding, its tempo and metre changes fabulously arbitrary, you really would be hard-pressed to find a better end to a rock concert. But the fact that Queens of the Stone Age made it to the last song at all was also a sigh of relief for everyone in the room considering Homme’s condition and outbursts.
The crowd left with grins on their faces, yet I can’t help but feel if the band are running like clockwork at the moment – maybe the rock and roll excesses they so proudly listed on “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” are catching up with them.