NEW YORK — Looking like he’d just trotted away from a Wall Street trading desk to grab some lunch, Queens of the Stone Age singer/guitarist Josh Homme betrayed his mainstream-Joe blue button-down shirt to belt out his band’s songs about nicotinevaliumvicodin
marijuanaecstasyandalcohol, among other subjects, to an overpacked Bowery Ballroom.
Bassist/singer Nick Oliveri looked more like what Queens sound like. (Click for photos from the show) Shirtless, with his bald dome shining and his goatee nearly dipping to nipple level, he could have passed for the late Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey.
Queens of the Stone Age have always been a shapeshifting crew, with the band constantly changing around core players Homme and Oliveri. The lineup at Thursday’s show included former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan, who served up lead vocals for a few tracks, Troy Van Leeuwen of A Perfect Circle on guitar and keyboards and, on drums, Dave Grohl, who has put aside Foo Fighters for a bit to become a Queen.
Lanegan, a featured guest with QOTSA in the past, is now a full-fledged member. He remained offstage, however, until it was his time to sing. He would just suddenly appear, standing stone still at the lip of the stage, one hand on the mic, the other on the mic stand, looking like he could barely stay awake and sporting a hairdo that appeared to be cut and fashioned with a hunting knife. His voice, a deep, sandpapery growl, was as powerful as ever.
The new cut “Songs for the Dead” that he sang got the crowd worked up more than anything that came before it, though Grohl’s cracked-whip precision pounding was certainly part of what made fans’ hearts bang in their chests. One of the white-rockers-with-dreads in the crowd nodded his head, clapped his hands passionately and said, with a tear almost starting to emerge from his eye, “That f—in’ rocked!” His turn completed, Lanegan scurried away just as quickly as he had materialized.
Lanegan also fronted for a couple of other new cuts, including “Hangin’ Tree” and “God,” about how the Almighty is lurking on the airwaves (“I know that God is in the radio/ Checking the station”). “God” petered out in the middle, with the band taking the volume way down as some lazy tambourine shook over low guitar noodling. The crowd seemed to lose patience; people began chatting loudly and barking out song requests. The volume gradually picked up and the band got back into the groove of the song, returning the crowd’s focus to the material at hand.
So, Dave Grohl: The shorter folks in the crowd didn’t get to see much of him, as he was neatly tucked away at the back of the stage, sweaty bare chest only occasionally visible through the cymbals, his head banging and his sticks pumping up and down like pistons. Perhaps his presence was part of the reason this sold-out show was about twice as packed as the usual sold-out shows at the Bowery Ballroom.
“We’ll get to that old sh– later, here’s some more new sh–,” Homme said before the band launched into another new track, “No One Knows.” The set was heavy on material from the group’s upcoming Songs for the Deaf. Among the other new songs QOTSA performed were “First It Giveth,” “Go With the Flow” and “Do It Again,” which has a Marilyn Manson “The Beautiful People”-kind of rhythm. “Gonna Leave You” featured Nick Oliveri on lead vocals, and he actually wasn’t screaming, but crooning a pretty chorus … yeah, pretty … yeah, chorus. Several of the new songs have more structured, traditional refrains than the band’s past work.
Queens closed with one of their “hits,” “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret,” one of the only cuts that got fans to jump a bit and sing along into the faces of their buddies (to be fair, Queens music isn’t exactly music to pogo by, though the people in the pit area got their bodies moving enough during “I Think I Lost My Headache” for Homme to snidely remark, “You can slam dance to f—ing anything, can’t you?”). As “Secret” ended, Homme thanked the crowd and flashed the metal sign. Feedback continued to flow through the venue as the band exited and the house lights came up. The crowd seemed to sigh collectively, then turned its back to the stage to begin the slow shuffle out through the sea of crushed plastic cups on the floor.
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