Long live the Queens

by Ryan Snyder

“I don’t really have a lot to say, except I’m just happy to be here,” Josh Homme said to the sold-out Raleigh Memorial Auditorium on Jan. 30 just a few songs into Queens of the Stone Age’s first touring date of 2014. “We came a looooong way to be here.”

It’s almost certain that he meant that literally, as in the band had just come all the way across the country from their preempted Grammy Moment™ a few nights earlier. There’s another interpretation where he could have meant it in the metaphysical sense, as just a few years prior to releasing their current album, Homme, the royal “we” in Queens of the Stone Age, actually died on the operating table. Then again, it could have had been a purely artistic statement, as Queens of the Stone Age are currently touring on Like Clockwork…, the first Billboard number-one album in their 18-year existence.

In any event, you don’t cook up a oneshot collaboration with Nine Inch Nails and Lindsey Buckingham, only to be cut off for an airline promo, and not come away with a chip on your shoulder. You don’t come back from the dead without a story to tell, you don’t scrape and claw your way to the top of the hard rock hierarchy without more ammo on your belt than the rest, and Queens of the Stone Age brought it all to the frigid evening of their Raleigh show.

Opener Chelsea Wolfe delayed the thaw momentarily, serving up chilly goth-rock tinged with droning Texas psychedelia, like the midpoint between Amy Lee (piercing eyes and all) and the 13 th Floor Elevators. Her throbbing “Feral Love” either serves as the backdrop for the “Game of Thrones” Season 4 trailer, or that trailer serves as the music video for her song — it works either way. Its live arrangement was equally austere; beams of light shot from the ceilings, just missing her, but breaking the darkness just enough to illuminate her cold visage every few seconds. As stark and beautiful as it was, one bald-faced sexist failed to appreciate it, as “If you can’t sing, at least show us your tits” rang out twice in the short quiet after it. Or maybe he was just a “Walking Dead” fanboy.

As much as Queens of the Stone Age’s earliest fans might ache for the soaring, but one-dimensional desert metal of Homme’s Kyuss days, the songs on Like Clockwork… shows that the band are unrivaled stylistic assimilators, somehow making the most antithetical influences stand out within their white-hot mass. Homme and company, including new drummer and former Mars Volta rhythm engine Jon Theodore, tossed out classic material early; the grind-boogie of “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire” and their earliest and biggest hit, the jolting “No One Knows,” led off an evening in which they would play almost all of Like Clockwork….

Homme let his quasi-operatic falsetto and chugging riffs do most of the talking, though he did nudge his stiff audience a little early on by revealing, “We’re already a little drunk and a little stoned, so y’all keep dancing and we’ll keep playing.” He’s not at all a bad two-step leader; one moment he’s Elvis gyrating his hips and the next he’s Pete Townshend thrusting hisknees up with a sharp uppick. Not every QotSA song lends itself to locomotion, and he was ready to admit it. The deep melancholy and lighters in the air (actual lighters) of “I Sat by the Ocean” was followed with the comment, “F— all the depressing s—,” as punishing synth bass introduced the title track from the new album.

The arsenal of new influences on Like Clockwork… was never more poignant than the lilting croon of “Kalopsia,” twisting the she-bop she-bop of the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” into its titular plea. Those kind of delicate moments were rare, but the crowd was never want for the arenarock chops that have placed them as the best hard rock band in the world right now. Homme threw up the double devil horns for the buzz-saw encore “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” showing that no matter how far he might stray from the mean, he still knows how to find his base line. !