Queens of the Stone Age at Roy Wilkins, 5/6/14

Queens of the Stone Age
Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Perched on a couple of tree trunks for legs, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme is a towering presence. During Tuesday's show at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, he had the space to became even more enormous. Owe it to his rafters-scraping vocal range, and the band's steroid-laden rock grooves -- cut with raw blues, metal, and funk supplements -- blasting through the speakers. Also, owe it to Homme's occasional restraint.

Slugging out the majority of last year's ...Like Clockwork and a strong assortment of past bangers, Homme kept the boom boom riffa riffa boom boom coming, for the most part. His loose-limbed presence seemed like it would eventually envelop a crowd of 4,000 or so in attendance. Just when the mosh pit would really start to spread, he'd pull back.

See also:
Slideshow: Queens of the Stone Age rock out at the Roy

QOTSA's momentum manipulation happened for the first time seven songs into the set. After slashing, banging, and wickedly asserting themselves for a spell with classics of yesterday ("No One Knows") and today ("My God is the Sun") Homme slid behind the keyboard for "...Like Clockwork." He's got a cleaner and less lascivious vocal delivery than Axl Rose, but clearly shares an appreciation for the power of a big piano moment to increase friction with the lack thereof. This gesture was appreciated not just for adding clarity in the mix, but also for its emotional impact on the crowd. "Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know?" Homme sang. The moshing eventually did, though.

The Roy was a bit of a distraction sound-wise (see my note at the end) but the five-piece Queens seemed largely unaffected by the bass and drums devouring the rest of the mix like a high school football team let loose in an Old Country Buffet. The songs were expressive, the pace quickened when it needed to, drummer Jon Theodore murdered his kit, and it was a tight set. Tighter than a fistful of hundreds, generally.

"St. Paul, I hope you're having a good time. Sorry, I'm a bit under the weather," Homme said in one of his few interactions with the crowd that didn't feature his falsetto range. "I hope everyone is drunk."

After a fist-pumping, cowbell-enhanced "Little Sister" provoked a few more spilled beers, the Roy's acoustics showed their limitations. The venue's power to engulf and muddy a nuanced performance was apparent as QOTSA attempted two gorgeous, prog-fueled anthems from their latest album. "Kalopsia" is heart-stopping in studio form, but its slow-building balladry turned into a plodding thunderstorm. It was like trying to glimpse a Dali painting by putting your eye up to a pinhole. The sexual swagger of "I Appear Missing" was significant in Homme's occasional physicality, but it was only near its end when a decrescendo coda -- sans drums and bass -- allowed its blood to flow as bright red.   

"Even if it's terrible, let's all pretend it's wonderful." Homme said of Lullabies to Paralyze-era rarity "The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died," which launches with a carnival organ and was lit up with lights pointed every which way like an excellent '80s glamour shot. This pretending was the attitude most folks seemed to apply to the night's sound limitations, and it overwhelmingly worked.


The rowdy side of an already rowdy band was ready for the set-closing pairing of power-tool sludge anthem "Sick, Sick, Sick" and an absolutely brutal "Go With the Flow." Coincidence that the Wild were absolutely dominating the Blackhawks next door during this barrage? Doubt it.

After a brief step offstage, it was encore time. For "The Vampyre of Time And Memory" -- which is secretly the best song off ...Like Clockwork -- Homme returned to the keyboard and began without the rumble of the band behind him. The lighters went up as if by reflex, and a sway bit the crowd deep. "Vampyre" revealed itself as a highlight of an already powerful night, and was one of a few moments that the band appeared revel in their abilities together.

The bludgeoning ode to vice "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" followed. "Let's get the clap together," Homme called out, while rhythmically beating his hands. "It's totally curable." The audience tried their best. Just like that, the boom riffa boom that has been the pulse of Queens of the Stone Age for well over a decade was back. It stuck around for "A Song for the Dead," which endured multiple false endings and the most cornea-searing lights of the whole affair. A few minutes later, Homme swatted down the mic stand like it was a mosquito and started ripping apart Theodore's drum set. After so many acts of inhuman grandeur towering over us, seeing the scaffolding come down was a distinct pleasure.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Fathers and sons, crew-cutted men with sleeve tattoos, a few dudes in hockey jerseys, and a few exuberant members of the fairer sex. Looking out over the audience, there were about 12 men to every woman.

Personal Bias: It's the Roy. Like hearing a band playing through busted amps in a submarine at the bottom of an indoor swimming pool in a maximum-security prison with a front loader rolling past

Overheard: Homme on St. Paul and Minneapolis: "You're twins. You fucking love each other."

You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire
No One Knows
My God Is The Sun
Burn The Witch
Smooth Sailing
...Like Clockwork
If I Had A Tail
I'm Designer
Little Sister
I Appear Missing
I Sat By The Ocean
Make It Wit Chu
The Fun Machine Took A Shit And Died
Sick, Sick, Sick
Go With The Flow

The Vampyre Of Time And Memory
Feel Good Hit Of The Summer
A Song For The Dead

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