The first time I saw Queens Of The Stone Age, if memory serves, they were playing London’s Garage venue just after their debut was released. It’s strange, then, that nearly a decade later, they’re in front of me at an even smaller venue, the historically sticky 100 Club. In fact, Troy Van Leeuwen is directly in front of me, flicking nonchalantly at his pedals with white strappy shoes.
Yes of course I am smug. One of the many perks of the job is blagging into secret shows like this, where Josh Homme can flex his ever-expanding muscles and try out the 83rd line-up of his enduringly marvellous band. I wrote about the new Queens album “Era Vulgaris” back here, and tonight is clearly an opportunity to see how these new songs work live.
They work fine, of course. This is a set focused on the jabbing, mechanistic boogie which Homme has really mastered this time out – songs like the opening “Misfit Love”, which has a sort of relentless intensity, and “I’m Designer”. It strikes me that, on “Misfit Love” especially, Homme has worked out a way to give his songs a funk motor, without falling foul of all the hackneyed moves that usually afflict funk-rock. Rarely has a band sounded less like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, basically.
I’m wary of believing the manifestos that bands put out to proclaim a new direction, but you can see here why Homme has been going on about “Era Vulgaris” being a dance record. It’s not entirely, of course, but watching Homme spasm around the stage, jostling with his callow and excellent new bassist, it’s clear he wants to stress that side.
To that end, he steers clear of the new album’s more expansive desert rock tracks like “River In The Road” and “Run Pig Run”, and goes for the most clipped selections from “Lullabies To Paralyze” – “Burn The Witch”, “Little Sister”, an excellent “In My Head”. It’s not the setlist I’d have chosen, but it works. Chiefly, this is the Queens at their most economical and party-friendly, ruthlessly drilled, perpetually on point.
The new line-up is as rigorous as ever. The sense that something terrible might happen at any moment left with Nick Oliveri, and I’ll always miss Lanegan‘s lean menace. But it’s tough to whinge when confronted with a clean, piledriving operation like this, especially when it’s fronted by a forcefully charismatic type like Homme. He digs up “Mexicola” from the first album, and it still has all the scything immediacy and hot vigour of old.
And then he finally stretches out, for the multi-sectioned “Song For The Dead”, and the precision and attack of Homme’s strategy moves up a notch. During the accelerated passages, the Queens now sound like Metallica, and the absence of Lanegan – who originally sang this one – seems almost irrelevant.
Good night, anyway.