Last night (Tuesday 21 November), US desert-rock royalty Queens of the Stone Age played London’s O2 Arena on the latest stop of their latest tour, supporting new album Villains. To thrill an arena-sized number of lifelong fans (and possibly even a few recent converts), Queens employed a relentless series of fan favourites and a few newer songs, all of which seemed to groove a little heavier than the last.
“I have good news,” says Josh Homme, the sure-footed, gold-toothed frontman of Queens of the Stone Age just a few minutes into their O2 Arena set, “it’s Saturday night!” As if in agreement that there really is no better night for live music (despite it actually being a Tuesday), the entire venue erupts and carries the energy headfirst into Queens’ set – hot off the heels of opener “If I Had a Tail”, “Monsters in the Parasol” from sophomore album Rated R (2000) is a classic cut which gradually gets everybody, even those in the O2’s mountainous upper level, on their feet.
“I know it’s the O2, but we wanna dance and make you come close” Homme declares later in the set, clearly using a career’s worth of crowd-hyping to know just what to say at any given onstage moment, even in somewhere as enormous and impersonal as the O2 – and tonight, dancing is high on the agenda. The first song from Queens’ latest acclaimed album Villains is “Feet Don’t Fail Me”, a song named by punk icon Iggy Pop, a song with an irresistible rhythm which nobody can resist when it starts up, and this year’s big comeback single “The Way You Used To Do” takes this to another level – a shotgun marriage of ’50s big band swing and 21st-century stomp, nobody in the arena is safe from a bit of hip-swinging. By this point in the set, everybody’s standing, most everybody is dancing, and the O2’s floor is soaked in what looked and smelt like beer.
With the band in full swing, it’s hard to imagine many other out-and-out hard rock acts who could captivate an arena this size in the current musical climate, but Queens’ eclectic back catalogue leaves little time to think – from iconic classics like “No One Knows” and “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” to more recent numbers and fan-favourites-in-the-making like “The Evil Has Landed” and “Domesticated Animals”. The band themselves are deliberate, efficient, and clearly very well-rehearsed down to the last note, especially for set-closer “A Song for the Dead”, which is frisky despite being a little long in the (gold) tooth. Guitarist Troy van Leeuwen, bassist Michael Shuman, keyboardist Dean Fertita and percussionist Jon Theodore, who showcases his hard-hitting ability during two blistering drum interludes, are all on top form, and Josh’s voice sounds stronger than ever.
While mostly known for their uptempo desert-rock romps, Homme and co are able to expertly take the mood a little lower for songs like “Make It Wit Chu”, a sultry slow jam from 2007 album Era Vulgaris, which simmers and swoons with Homme’s every word, and “Villains of Circumstance”, Villains‘ atmospheric album closer, which glacially rises and falls before a three-song salvo of fast, footloose, and fiercely rambunctious classics; “Little Sister”, “Sick, Sick, Sick”, and “Go with the Flow” finish off the main portion of the show.
It’d be impossible to go any further without reserving special praise for whoever oversaw the lighting and stage design; things which look like vertical strobe lights, but which bend and wobble whenever the band interact with them, not only look incredible but also allow the band to clearly have as much fun onsatge as we’re having in the stalls, and the synchronisation of the lights with the music is nothing short of mind-blowing. “Sick, Sick, Sick” gets some of the best of this, as white lights shine from opposite ends of the stage, back and forth with the song’s pummeling rhythm, casting long shadows and pairing perfectly with the song’s intense, ghoulish tone. You don’t realise the importance of a good light show until you see one of this quality, in this big a venue.
By the time the lumbering, elephantine giants of West Coast rock are done with the O2, it’s hard to imagine anybody going home tonight without a smile. The band’s exhaustive 20-song setlist covered the best of the best in terms of new material, and failed to exclude any of the career-defining numbers which helped build the Queens brand into one of the biggest, arena-crushing, groove-inducing goliaths of the modern age. Well-rehearsed, well-executed, stage-owning and note-perfect: if this is what Villains look like, then heroes have obviously had their day.
Note: I’d never been to The O2 Arena before this concert, and if you’ve never been, try to avoid the upper levels and you’ll be fine. Honestly, if you suffer from vertigo, just don’t, I felt dizzy just looking up there. Obviously, if you’re seeing a band as good as Queens of the Stone Age, it doesn’t matter. They’re my favourite rock band, and while I tried to write this review without drawing on that, it was tricky, and I accept my bias in full. If you want to read my thoughts on their full album, I wrote that up here, but honestly, I hope everyone gets to see their favourite band someday, and I hope they’re as enjoyable as last night was for me.
Also, does anybody actually care about Josh Homme smoking onstage? His lungs clearly didn’t suffer as a result, and anybody looking to a rockstar dubbed the “Ginger Elvis” as an arbiter of good behaviour has clearly missed the point.
Josh Will Eden