THE ASCENT OF MAN
Josh Homme continues his climb to the top of rock’s tree.
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.