Pick Your Rock and Metal

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When Josh rocked the house - QOTSA tear through the Odyssey

QUEENS of the Stone Age are a band that bridge the hard rock and heavy metal genres and occasional pop fan scenesters brought up in watching videos in the noughties in student flats.

That aside, when John Homme and his merry mad men played the Odyssey Arena, Belfast on 18th November QOTSA played as if they were rocking a festival of devoted rockers, backed by an impressive and varied stage set that cunningly married the sense of the songs with visual paradies.

However, as some refer to Queens as an alt-rock or indie band it was appropriate that two alt-rock/indie acts opened the bill.

Sweethead are fronted by Serrina Simms on vocals, who appeared wearing an all-in-one bodysuit, prompting misogynistic shouts from numpties who really shouldn't be allowed out unescorted. The sound for Sweethead - formed by QOTSA guitarist Troy Van Neeuwen and ex-members of the Mark Lanegan Band, Plexi and Handscome - was typical overblown indie rock, lot of noise but a lot less substance.

Compounding the problems for Sweethead were a quarter full hall and a sound mix with the drums over-bearing and the guitars almost drowning out Simms vocals. Although slightly reminiscent of Jeanette Lewis, there is potential here if the band were to drop trying to be 'indie' and just get rocking.

For Nathan Connolly, the problem seemed to be the Snow Patrol guitarist's memory. After an impressive hard opening from Little Matador he told the crowd that it was great to play Belfast and that it was Little Matador's first time. He later had to be reminded that Little Matador had played Belsonic festival in the heart of the city opening up for Nine Inch Nails.

Having said that the band were much tighter this time round, tours and club dates have honed them to razor-edge sharpness. Shatter was particularly impressive amid a cacophony of noise.

Noticeably more relaxed than Belsonic, the triple guitar act were a fitting opener for QOTSA, but one wonders if Connoly and the band (who also include Troy Stewart from Gary Lightbody's side project Tired Pony) can escape from the shadow of Snow Patrol. [You can read our pre-gig interview with Nathan Connolly here.] Also, given the (very) slight resemblance in some tracks to the headliners it is a matter for speculation if the band's name is in anyway connected to QOTSA's label - Matador Records.

Stage cleared from the clutter of supporting acts the scale of the stage set became apparent - a stripped down set of amps and instruments dwarfed by a ceiling height screen and an assortment of neat lighting effects.

Queens of the Stone Age are now old hands at playing stadia. With recent release...Like Clockwork indicating a return to some of the earlier desert rock grooves the set had a balance and a pace clearly designed to both please the crowd and to introduce newer tracks.

With the Odyssey curtain covering an empty back quarter of the hall clearly the number of recent and walk-up sales for this MCD promoted event ensured the rest of the standing area was packed in as they tore into the set with precision and power, a long way divorced from easy classification as desert or stoner rock.

Of the newer tracks Fairweather Friends stood out, along with encore opener The Vampyre of Time and Memory. One feels that these will become set regulars in future appearances along with the title track ...Like Clockwork.

However, for many in the hall excitement was reserved for the single hits of the Queens' past. Having No One Knows as the second track of the evening showed a stylish touch in keeping the crowd engaged.

The illuminations and visuals on the backdrop were a mirror to each track, worryingly disconcerting in the best possible way for the band's mythos of part bandidos, part cynical observers.

Of course Go With The Flow was impressive and closer Song for the Dead was drawn out appropriately for the by now adoring crowd.

However, there was a distinct lack of connection between songs with the audience. Saying the word "Belfast"" after the second track, asking "If we can play a new track" were about the sum of things until he apologized with the somewhat lame excuse of "I don't know always what to say, but we know what to play" this seems to be par for the course for Homme.

The 'Ginger Elvis' is the only remaining member from the original QOTSA line-up; and while the diverse and challenging arrangements on some tracks may reflect the past of the Queens, Homme's metal roots (Kyuss etc) are there for all to hear in the sheer weight of the sound and the riffing of the guitars.

While this was a memorable night for many fans, once you strip away the backdrop this was a good, entertaining set, rather than a great performance.

It is also probable that many present would willingly see them again, though sales suggest they may have to travel to see them on the festival circuit.

Overall the Queens of the Stone Age are now far removed from the desert generator parties. It may not be possible to ever recreate those, and with Homme's near-death on the operating theatre in 2010 this is probably a more reflective time for the band to consolidate their position and earn a few extra dollars (which no-one can blame them for, it is their 'job' after all!).

Therefore any hopes for spontaneity would be forlorn, but a little more verbal interaction could have elevated Homme's already high standing.

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