Thursday 6th of March @ Sydney Entertainment Centre
BOOM! Lights go up, crowd goes wild. It’s the classic stadium rock show that we’ve all been waiting for. Or at least 90% of the room have been waiting for. The other 10% are probably unwilling participants, ungrateful significant others who couldn’t give less of a shit as to whether Trent Reznor is still a whiny bitch, or if Josh Homme dyes his hair red.
It’s been a while since I went to a massive venue like the Sydney Entertainment Centre. And I’m not quite sure whether it’s because my ears have become used to excruciatingly bad sound at venues, but the way that bass thunders in my chest and Trent Reznor’s vocals ring crystal clear is refreshing. However, that’s probably one of the highlights of Nine Inch Nails’ set. Overall, it doesn’t cast too much of a shadow. The effect of his performance is lopsided. When he plays a big hit, like the one-two punch of ‘March of the Pigs’ and ‘Piggy’, a scenario that caused my inner 14-year old to jizz profusely, the crowd goes mental, as they rightfully should have. But stuff like this is interspersed with random electronic shit that, frankly, sounds boring. There’s nothing all that exciting that happens on stage when Reznor is moaning about how much his life suck whilst surrounded by thousands of adoring fans and accompanied by a light show that would make a gathering of UFO abduction theorists lose their collective shit.
The haphazard hit-and-miss spectacle of Nine Inch Nails’ show makes for patient waiting, and only towards the end does it offer a reason for dedicated attention. Before that, I was pretty content to nod along, stand in line at the atrocious bar queue, and fantasise about how great it would be if I were in Metallica circa 1987. Even old mate Trent seems to get more excited when he hauls out the hits-a whole crowd screaming back ‘FIST FUCK!’ during ‘Wish’? Yes, please! And ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Head Like A Hole’ are gloriously alive performances, with Trent stalking the stage in classic form, a nihilistic barbarion. And the closer of ‘Hurt’ is a fantastic way to close, an adoring crowd of young and old singing back the original NIN song that most actually think is a Johnny Cash song. Beautiful.
But what about ‘Closer’, Ryan? Surely the man played his biggest hit? Right? Right? What the fuck, he didn’t play ‘Closer’? Yep, the song that everyone wanted to hear was peculiarly absent in the set list. Nine Inch Nails abandon Australia for five-ish years, and when they return Reznor pisses on the fans, playing a bunch of technically proficient but overall uninteresting new material in leu of a track people would kill to see live. It just seems like a bit of a kick in the balls, especially on top of a performance that was mediocre and tired for a band so renowned for their live performance and visceral attitude.
For Queens of the Stone Age, there was no such problem. A red carpet is laid out, Oscars-style, a precursor to the bombastically rich and luxurious performance all are about to witness. Josh Homme and co. come out and immediately blast into ‘Songs for the Deaf’s ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionare’. Instantly, and I mean instantly, the crowd is a roaring, soaring maelstrom of intensity and adoration. Queens own the stage like they were birthed onto one with their respective instruments in hand. The music is fast, repulsively so, but it whirs and connects with a viciousness that most bands couldn’t hope for.
The set continues with the same momentum. Every song is a bonafide hit from the Queens career, a caterwauling construction of awesome. For the first hour, the focus is on songs from the new album, ‘…Like Clockwork’, with tracks such as ‘My God Is The Sun’ and ‘Smooth Sailing’ causing a ruckus of biblical plague proportions. But of course, it’s the older hits that form the circle pits and incite the largest bellows of ecstasy. ‘No One Knows’ kicks off the first real mosh of the night, and ‘Little Sister’s cowbell is, at this point, a certified apthrodisiac.
A few more hits off the new record, with the title track and ‘If I Had A Tail’ appearing with over-annunciated warmth, and its time to kick back into hit-making territory. ‘Sick, Sick, Sick’ and ‘3’s and 7’s’ team up together to form a double-kick more powerful than anything that Lars Ulrich could stimulate from a drum set. Then ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ pops up for asphincter-loosening extended version, literally causing my mouth to drop into unintended awe and ecstasy. I know I say my jaw drops a lot, but this time, it actually happened, and stayed that way for a good ten minutes.
Besides commanding the stage like Dr. Manhattan, and being the rock star God that most has thought perished with the gentrification of rock, The Queens also adopted a fine visual backdrop. ‘Make it Wit Chu’ was accompanied by a suitably horror-ful woman in suspended grey, whilst set closer ‘Go With The Flow’ echoed the balls-to-the-wall rock n roll with a flurry of Songs for the Deaf pitchforks.
Really, Queens of the Stone Age could not be faulted on a single level. They were professional, but oozed the kind of atmosphere that cried intimacy. They were rockstars minus the self-importance. And best off all, they knew how to play really, really great music. In every aspect of their performance, they tore apart mediocrity with the same primal passion usually reserved for cannibalism. Without a doubt, Queens of the Stone Age were one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, and in the context of stadium rock, they are the best.