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Queens of the Stone Age – Arena, Manchester 20/11/13

22 November 2013, 12:30 | Written by Joe Goggins

“I’ve been pretty sick; the doctor’s got me on tons and tons of drugs. If it gets a little weird, it’s not you, it’s me.” You rather suspect that this is now as close as Josh Homme gets to the heady days described in Queen’s of The Stone Age’s “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”.

Having hit forty back in May, he’s being accompanied on this tour by the present Mrs. Homme, Brody Dalle, and their young kids, out in support of a record that showed some disarming signs of musical maturity; piano ballads (“The Vampyre of Time and Memory”), existential crises (“…Like Clockwork”) and collaborations with Elton John are all present and correct.

The revolving door policy enforced by Homme since the band’s inception ensures that tonight’s lineup isn’t quite the same as the one that played their tremendous self-titled debut, in full, across town at the Academy in 2011; drummer Joey Castillo has departed, apparently acrimoniously, with former Mars Volta man Jon Theodore now behind the kit. You do wonder quite why Queens of the Stone Age are one of a curious clutch of bands that manage to avoid the sort of criticism that, say, The Smashing Pumpkins come in for on account of only retaining one original member, especially given that Queens, with the sacking of Nick Oliveri and dwindling involvement of Mark Lanegan, can no longer call upon the talents of three different vocalists.

Not that Homme’s averse to including numbers he didn’t sing on first time round; Songs for the Deaf opener “You May Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” kicks off proceedings tonight. Homme’s subdued take on the track lacks the deranged intensity of Oliveri’s original, but given that the former bassist’s most recent activity of note was a heavily-armed and apparently drug-fuelled standoff with a SWAT team, it’s likely that the unhinged persona he projected wasn’t an act. Big-hitter “No One Knows” swiftly follows, and is relayed with pleasing gusto for a song that both band and audience are surely absolutely sick to death of.

The interesting gambit tonight is to drop pretty much all of the new material into the middle of the set, rather than space it out evenly; the early stages, save for a furious rendition of …Like Clockwork lead single “My God Is the Sun”, see the focus on older tracks; fists are duly pumped for “Burn the Witch”, whilst “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” cements its position as the snappiest, poppiest song Homme’s ever penned.

The terrific slow burner “In the Fade”, a regular on this tour, is a disappointing omission to add to the dearth of any cuts from the band’s first, and in my opinion best, full-length; it’s hard to complain too much if, like me, you caught that anniversary tour two years ago, but there’s no denying that the likes of “You Can’t Quit Me Baby” and the crushingly heavy “Mexicola” would be sterling additions to the setlist, and certainly more pleasing to the purist than “No One Knows” yet again.

The new cuts are largely translated successfully; “I Appear Missing” sounds every bit as epic live as the recorded version promised it would, and while “Fairweather Friends” isn’t quite as delightfully gaudy as I’d hoped, “Smooth Sailing” certainly is. It’s the irresistible disco strut that you’d always wanted Homme to try his hand at, especially when there’s bands as unimaginative as Muse that have pulled it off with such aplomb (‘Supermassive Black Hole’). ‘I Sat by the Ocean’ is tremendously catchy though a misstep comes in the trudging “Kalopsia”, a song that goes absolutely nowhere and doesn’t do it particularly fast, either.

The set is closed out in nicely varied fashion; the frenzied riffs of “Sick Sick Sick” sit strangely comfortably next to “Make It Wit Chu”s magnificent sleaze. An extended version of Rated R deep cut “Better Living Through Chemistry” is probably the highlight, although the crowd, predictably, respond far more vocally to “Go with the Flow” and “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”; you only hope that the little Hommes are in bed before they can hear their dad blast through a track with lyrics exclusively comprises of the list of illicit substances that he ingested on the eve of the new millennium.

The 16,000 capacity arena isn’t quite full tonight, but there’s no question that this is very much Queens’ level, as underlined by a set closer that any band would kill for; “A Song for the Dead” is the musical equivalent of a battering ram. Mark Lanegan isn’t around to provide his original vocals – again, given their hellishly guttural nature, this is probably in the best interests of Homme’s children – but the song is really all about the interplay between the explosive drum work – which Theodore has down to a tee – and the incendiary riff, which sits, in tempo terms, somewhere between the respective speeds of sound and light.

Queens of the Stone Age are, by a long chalk, the most exciting live band in mainstream rock. They’re tight, but not too tight, with songs that suit arenas, without having been cynically constructed for them. They dramatically show up some of their peers for the heinous peddlers of dad-rock that they truly are. I hope they don’t leave it another six years before their next record; I want to see this show again.

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