- 23 Nov 23
Paul Nolan was on-hand as one of the world's greatest rock bands delivered an awesome performance
Last Christmas, no one gave their heart, but I did go through another of my intermittent periods of obsession of Queens Of The Stone Age. I remember one evening playing the 2001 live version of 'Mexicola' at Australia's Big Day Out about 20 times in a row, while rewatching the band's 2002 performance at Glastonbury, I began to think the line-up from that era – comprised of Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan – was the greatest rock band ever.
Aside from the pulverising music, the visual aesthetic was also perfect, with the group all looking like they'd just stepped out of a noir movie. In fact, I have come to think Homme chooses band members almost 80 percent on the look, as further evidenced by the subsequent addition of the giant Joey Castillo on drums, when Grohl resumed Foo Fighter duties.
The 2023 iteration continues to satisfy on every level, with Homme now joined by Jon Theodore, Dean Fertita, Michael Shuman and Troy Van Leeuwen, all of whom maintain that supremely cool noir look, whilst functioning as a powerhouse musical collective. Performing on a relatively simple, but enormously effective, stage set-up with a triangular lighting rig as the centrepiece, Queens bring out the heavy artillery early.
At this stage of my life, I am highly fussy gig-goer, but the opening triptych of 'No One Knows', 'The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret' (one of the greatest rock songs of the 21st century) and 'Smooth Sailing' is as wildly exciting as rock music gets. In particular, the deranged robotic rhythms and gonzo melody of the latter is an absolute joy: if Devo were locked in a room after a three-day bender and told to come up with a hit, it might sound like this.
Glancing at QOTSA setlists from throughout this tour, I had been a bit concerned beforehand that there might be a mid-gig dip, but the show remains entrancing from first to last. It's a delicious mix of psych-rock and stoner grooves, with a peak reached on the epic, narcotised euphoria of the sublime 'Better Living Through Chemistry'. The sound is also immaculate, the brutalising guitars offsetting the thick and satisfying rhythm section.
Having come through an exceptional rough decade, ranging from a near-death experience, through the Bataclan shootings, a messy divorce and a cancer diagnosis (he's now thankfully clear), Homme is keen to embrace the noticeably celebratory atmosphere. "I just want to savour this right now," says the singer. "Cos I know it won't last. Whether you want to sit, stand or dance, now is your moment."
By the time roll around the singalong-friendly R&B boogie 'I Wanna Make Wit Chu', it has become unavoidable: there's a very special atmosphere at this show that only happens very occasionally at concerts, making it all the more precious. Aside from Homme's back-story, there's the fact it's the last night of the tour, with the time of year adding to the festive vibe, and the frontman's clear love from Ireland ("You know I mean it when I say there's nowhere else we'd rather bring it to a close," he notes).
In addition, an unexpectedly emotional note is introduced before 'I Sat By The Ocean', which Homme dedicates to Shane MacGowan. "I wanna mention one of my heroes, who’s in a bad way," says the frontman. "I want you all to think very, very good thoughts about about Shane MacGowan. The man is an absolute poet. When the poets are gone, you’re just left with a bunch of cunts – I believe it was a poet who said that. So I want to play this next song for Shane MacGowan."
Arriving back for the encore meanwhile, Homme – after sparking up a cigarette and acknowledging a 12-year-old fan on the balcony he'd met earlier – speaks movingly about the late Lanegan's move to Kerry, and his untimely death a couple of years back. They then perform a suite of tunes Lanegan had once sung, 'In The Fade', 'God Is In The Radio', 'Go With The Flow' and 'Song For The Dead'.
It makes for a pulverising, epic conclusion to a very memorable show. And then, just as Homme had noted, that magical atmosphere slowly dissipates in the cold outside afterwards, as we all talk to friends, book Ubers, walk towards town. Still, a reliable index for the quality of the gig is the snatches of overheard conversation afterwards. On this occasion, every thing I catch is a variation on, 'Absolutely fucking unbelievable'.
It is truly wonderful to have this most special of groups back and I honestly can't wait to see them again.