Queens of the Stone Age began its set a little after 7 p.m. at the Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fair. To get there, you have to spend time winding through the fairgrounds, past the hordes of children tugging their parents' hands, begging for tickets to games and rides. There's a giant livestock show that delights kids of all ages, and bright, flashing lights enthrall the eye in every which direction.
The family-friendly, funnel cake-pushing atmosphere of the Arizona State Fair lent a hilarious air to the concert last night, such as during the band's second song, "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," in which frontman Josh Homme croons all the drugs the band took while recording their second album, Rated R: "Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy, and alcohol, c-c-c-c-c-cocaine!"
Because let's face it, there was no reason why Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) should have played the State Fair. This year's lineup was surprisingly strong, with Wiz Kalifa and Weezer lending hip musical cred to the lineup, but Queens of the Stone Age is absolutely the highlight. There is no more important rock band to emerge in the past 15 years, and to see them as a sideshow to the garish display of lights and deep-fried garbage foods seemed somewhat demeaning to the group's legacy. Let's face it, most bands that play state fairs across the country are past their prime. But not QOTSA. There is no band that has carried the torch for rock 'n' roll's future while honoring its past better than Queens of the Stone Age, and during the 2000s, when guitar- and riff-driven rock was dying a slow death at the hands of nu-metal and electronic dance music, Queens of the Stone Age was there, cracking jokes, smoking cigarettes, and drinking whiskey and keeping rock alive.
For the band's part, they seemed to take the state fair thing in sardonic stride, even though they hardly mentioned the show at all on its website and social media leading up to it. Homme cracked jokes about the fair a few times, including during a lull in "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," when he sneered, "Arizona State Fair. My pig won the greatest pig of all. All I did was feed him one simple thing." (The one simple thing was drugs.) Homme also shared, "I used to live here, and in '91 I saw Nirvana play here." It was actually 1993, but dang. The state fair has a history in picking great bands, I suppose.
The set list, including the encore, featured 17 songs and kicked off with "Keep Your Eyes Peeled," the dark, murky, hypnotic opening track from the band's excellent sixth album, 2013's ...Like Clockwork. The set tapped the new album for seven out of 17 songs, which is no problem. ...Like Clockwork is a brilliant, album, the darkest and most musically mature album in QOTSA's catalog.
So many bands strike gold with their first album or two and then coast on the brilliance of their early work. No way you can put Queens into that category. Every album QOTSA has ever produced contains moments of undiluted rock 'n' roll genius, and ...Like Clockwork stands proudly next to the band's five other albums.
The band played most of the new songs faithfully to the album version, while throwing in some kinks to older songs, "Little Sister" for example, to keep things interesting for both them and the die-hard fans in the audience. On "Smooth Sailing," Homme swapped the word "kisses" for "hickies" in the line, "I've got bruises and hickies, stitches and scars." The audience didn't care, though, and gave a raucous cheer at the end of the song. The band's seventh tune was "Someone's In the Wolf," from the oft-overlooked album Lullabies to Paralyze. It was a killer deep cut; according to setlist.fm, it was the first time the band played the song since
2006 2011. Homme seemed to really get into "God Is the Sun," swaying his hips in a way that makes you appreciate his "Ginger Elvis" nickname. "Make It Wit Chu," perhaps the sexiest song in QOTSA's catalog, featured Homme going absolutely crazy on the guitar solo. The final song of the set, Homme wryly remarked, "No One Knows," Homme wryly remarked, "This is a song that hopefully everybody knows." Jon Theodore, the ex-Mars Volta drummer who joined QOTSA partway through the recording process of ...Like Clockwork, dominated the drum parts Dave Grohl wrote for the song back in early years of the new millennium.
When the band retook the stage for the encore, Homme requested that the venue kill the lights and that everyone turn on the flashlights on their cell phones. The resulting glow illuminated the entire venue. "Isn't that fucking beautiful," Homme commented. "We're all good friends. Not like everyone else, who's a fair weather friend," launching the band into "Fairweather Friends," which featured a guest performance from Elton John.
Just kidding! But Sir Elton did do vocals on the album version of the song, approaching Homme about the collaboration by calling him and saying, "The only thing misssing from your band is an actual queen." The band then did "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire," which isn't the same without ex-bassist Nick Oliveri (Oliveri will perform the song at QOTSA's show in Los Angeles tonight).
"On behalf of all the tequila and the rest of the band, I'd like to say thank you so much," Homme said, before the band ended the night with "A Song for the Dead."
The sound inside the Memorial Coliseum left a lot to be desired. Josh Homme is a genius with guitar tones and production, but the nuances of his guitar work got swallowed by the cavernous confines of the coliseum. Not saying it was terrible -- a few hiccups aside, the sound guys did their job -- but a venue like Comerica Theatre or even US Airways Center would have done much better service to the band's audio.
See the next page for set list and Critic's Notebook.
Set list: Keep Your Eyes Peeled Feel Good Hit of the Summer
You Can't Quit Me Baby Regular John Smooth Sailing If I Had a Tail Little Sister Tangled Up in Plaid The Vampyre of Time and Memory My God Is the Sun I Sat by the Ocean Make It Wit Chu Lost Art of Keeping a Secret Go With the Flow No One Knows
Encore: Fairweather Friends You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire A Song for the Dead
Last Night: Queens of the Stone Age at the Arizona State Fair
The Crowd: Fairly sedentary and non-responsive. I mean, it's Phoenix, so what do you expect, but still -- a little more reaction to the songs would have been nice.
Personal Bias: I moved to Phoenix in April, and two of the things that have made it worth it so far are the Superstition Mountains and the opportunity to see Queens of the Stone for the second time in 14 months on the ...Like Clockwork tour. The first time, at Colorado's gorgeous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the band played "Better Living Through Chemistry," one of my favorite songs that I thought I'd never hear them play live. This time, they played "Someone's In the Wolf," another favorite song of mine I'd resigned myself to never hearing in concert.
While We're at It: My 21 favorite QOTSA songs, in no particular order:
"If Only" "I Was a Teenage Hand Model" "Mexicola" "You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire" "No One Knows" "A Song for the Dead" "God Is In The Radio" "Tangled Up in Plaid" "Little Sister" "In My Head" "You've Got A killer Scene There, Man" "Turning on a Screw" "I'm Designer" "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" "Auto Pilot" "In The Fade" "Better Living Through Chemistry" "Smooth Sailing" "If I had A Tail" "Born to Hula" "I Appear Missing"
Correction: This article originally published with the incorrect date in the headline.
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