THE AS­CENT OF MAN

Josh Homme con­tin­ues his climb to the top of rock’s tree.

Q (UK) - - Q Review - DAVE EVERLEY

Their deep-rooTed couldn’Tgive-a-f**kness has clearly served Them well.

It’s half­way through Queens Of The Stone Age’s most erotic song, the Prince-in­debted Make It Wit Chu, when the bra lands on­stage. Josh Homme – singer, gui­tarist, reader of bed­time sto­ries on CBee­bies – picks it up, holds it to his chest and grins like a randy sixth for­mer. “You gotta love it,” he drawls, shov­ing it in his back pocket, where it re­mains for the rest of the gig. It’s a flash of old-school rock’n’roll the­atre that feels oddly out of step with cur­rent sen­si­bil­i­ties. But non­con­for­mity has al­ways been part of Queens Of The Stone Age’s ap­peal ever since Homme swag­gered out of the Coachella desert 20 years ago. They were wil­ful anom­alies even then – Cal­i­for­nian punks fil­ter­ing de­sertdry Krautrock through the gauze of ’ 70s heavy metal – and they’ve be­come no less de­viant since. Their deep-rooted couldn’t-give-afuck­ness has clearly served them well if the size of the venues they play these days is any mea­sure. This is by far their big­gest UK head­lin­ing show, even tak­ing into ac­count the pep­per­ing of empty seats in the 20,000- ca­pac­ity O2’s up­per reaches. Tellingly, they’ve taken a left-field ap­proach to arena rock’s usual visual spec­ta­cle: with its ar­ray of il­lu­mi­nated ver­ti­cal strips, the stage is one part pop-up light sabre shop, one part 1990s strip club. In truth, it doesn’t mat­ter what or who Homme has up there with him. The man and the en­tity that is Queens Of The Stone Age are en­tirely in­ter­change­able these days, and have

been since the mid-noughties de­par­ture of bassist Nick Oliv­eri. Even Dave Grohl has been sub­sumed into the front­man’s greater vi­sion on the oc­ca­sions he hopped on board. But then Homme is a born ring­leader, as well as the per­fect host. “Cut loose, take your fuck­ing pants off,” he drawls be­fore a mus­cu­lar-but­n­ever-ma­cho No One Knows, pour­ing 20,000 peo­ple a metaphor­i­cal drink and spark­ing up a very real (and, in these sur­round­ings, very il­licit) cig­a­rette as the light sabres around him glow red. That QOTSA find them­selves in this vaunted po­si­tion in 2017 isn’t that sur­pris­ing. Fif­teen years ago, the singer laid out his re­la­tion­ship with pop cul­ture: “In­fil­trate and kill the king. And you don’t do that by knock­ing on the fuck­ing draw­bridge door. You be­come his ad­vi­sor, slit his throat, blame it on the cook and run away.”

A decade and a half on, those aims have been ful­filled, even if Homme has stopped short of full-blown regi­cide. The re­cent, Mark Ron­son-pro­duced Vil­lains re­in­forced QOTSA’s sta­tus as the arty, out­sider rock band peo­ple who don’t like arty, out­sider rock mu­sic can dance to. The sup­ple one-two of Feet Don’t Fail Me and The Way You Used To are more hip-swing­ing here than they are on record; swap out the lat­ter’s fuzzy gui­tar call-and-re­sponse for sax­o­phones and you’ve got a fin­ger­pop­ping ’ 40s big band num­ber. Per­versely, in other ways they’ve come a long dis­tance but not re­ally trav­elled very far. Reg­u­lar John was the open­ing track on their un­der-the-radar de­but al­bum, a record re­leased when Homme was best known – if at all – as the for­mer gui­tarist with stoner metal stan­dard-bear­ers Kyuss. Dis­patched tonight as the first en­core, it shows that the pieces were all in place from the start: mo­torik rhythms, gui­tars verg­ing on the falsetto. Ev­ery­thing since has just been vari­a­tions on a theme. A great theme, and a theme that no one else has had the brains to ex­plore, but a theme none­the­less. They haven’t com­pletely jet­ti­soned the trap­pings of hard rock. Homme still slips into the role of gui­tar hero when the oc­ca­sion needs, and there are two (mer­ci­fully brief ) drum so­los from Jon Theodore. But for ev­ery Go With The Flow – the equiv­a­lent of 400lbs of prime Amer­i­can beef hurtling to­wards you at high speed – there’s a glee­fully weird Do­mes­ti­cated An­i­mals or a stark I Ap­pear Miss­ing, writ­ten about Homme be­ing con­fined to a hos­pi­tal bed in 2010 and a rare in­stance of him let­ting down his guard and lay­ing bare his vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. That last event – the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind 2013’ s trou­bled …Like Clock­work al­bum – still res­onates with Homme to­day. “These are the mo­ments,” he says, briefly di­vested of irony or ar­ti­fice. “There is no fu­ture, there is no past. This is all you got.” To prove it, he runs his gui­tar up and down the near­est strip of light, pro­duc­ing one last squall of noise as if to re­mind the au­di­ence that all the suc­cess will never rein in this eter­nal out­sider.

“The stage is one part pop-up light sabre shop, one part ’ 90s strip club...”

Head­bangers ball: the front row cut loose.

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