Gig Review: Queens of the Stone Age & Nine Inch Nails

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.

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Album Review: Queens of the Stone Age-…Like Clockwork

MORE LIKE QUEENS OF THE BONER AGE!!! Because they give me a boner. Because they are so good. Excellent, in fact. Okay, I should go back a bit. QOTSA have just released a stellar new album, an album stewing in hibernation for the past 6 years, since the previous pyscho-drama of 2007’s ‘Era Vulgaris’. The anticipation that has been building in the collective rock community for ‘…Like Clockwork’ has been more twisted than a pigs dick. All the news of the guest stars, from Foo Fighter and Nirvana skinsman Dave Grohl to the Nine Inch Nail and human muscle Trent Reznor, from pipsqueak Scissor Sister Jake Shear to Arctic Monkey Alex Turner. Even Sir Elton John wanted some of that sweet, syrupy Queen action (Insert your own joke about Elton and Queens here). As the album drew closer to release, all the Homme fans in the house started to panic. Will it be a catastrafuck? Will all the guest stars crowd the record and turn it into a mess of mish mashed sounds? Will QOTSA go dubstep?! Holy fuck, they didn’t chuck a Muse did they!?. Luckily, no, they’re not that fucked up (except for Nick Oliveri) and, for the most part, every fans nightmares have been quenched, and the record remains a tauntingly morbid masterpiece.

Before ‘…Like Clockwork’s release, Josh Homme, lead singer/guitarist and my ginger ninja compatriot, described the album as ‘documenting the journey of moving forward, you know. It was a tough time and I thought, ‘I can run away from this, or I can run into it.’ Indeed, the album does present that sort of view. Howling maelstrom’s of horrifying sound swell and capsize, and there is a sense of moving down a never-ending highway, the conscious notion that pushing forward is the only option. Frenzied, buffed riffs tear through and shred undeniably, melancholy juxtaposing hope, torpedoing drums splinter a chaos, and, overall, the classic Queens of the Stone Age sound fills the entire record.

After that overtly pompous intro to the album, let’s get stuck into the great aspects of ‘…Like Clockwork’. It revels in that classic mysterious, doom vibe that has always separated Queens of the Stone Age from your average band. Explosions of sound have always worked in their favour, as well as cutting edge bass lines that  dominate the listener, and force you into a cowering fetal position, and all these elements are present. ‘My God is the Sun’, probably the first taste of the album for many fans, as the band premiered the song at Lollapalooza Brazil earlier this year, is an infuriatingly dense track, filled to the brim with confident sound. It pounds ahead with primal instinct, thumping with undaunted and god-like fever. Homme’s vocals quail, and the guitar hook manages to perpetrate every corner of the brain. However, it is definitely the drums that create that tidal aspect to the track, and no wonder, Grohl is behind the kit. It is a shockingly awesome display of power, as is the clunky ‘Smooth Sailing’. Homme’s trailing, seductive voice calls the listener like a siren before bashing them with harsh, snarled disposition. It’s a ghastly incantation of slime and spatter, a whole wave of personalities present on the song, and even the classic bouncy harmonica meets-guitar  sound solo making an appearance (A lot of fans might remember something similar on ‘3’s and 7’s’ or ‘Skin on Skin’, but this is much more intimidating and gruesome). The bouncin’, bopping rhythm makes me picture this: imagine John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, taking over the Splash Mountain ride at Disney Land, and then replace that ‘Skip-de-de-do-da’ with ‘Smooth Sailing’. Yeah, it’s fucked up, but that’s QOTSA for ya. Another stand out bomber is the slipping and sliding ‘If I Had A Tail’. The spectre-railing-against-your-window effect that chorus has is down right creepy, and there’s not many songs out there that can lay claim to a reaction like that. When Homme laments/accuses ‘IF I HAD A TAIL/ I’D OWN THE NIGHT/ IF I HAD A TAIL/ TO SWAT THE FLIES’ you can practically feel the buzzing drone of the guitar and bass combo needling away at your skin, breathing hotly on your neck.

Now all this is truly impressive stuff, and it’s mind-bogglingly good, but sometimes it’s hard not to wonder ‘Have I heard this before? On another QOTSA record?’. Sure, it stays diverse enough to be different, but it’s not a substantial difference to say, ‘Lullabies to Paralyze’ or ‘Songs for the Deaf’. That’s not the only thing on the  that puts a quizzical half-frown on my ugly mug. Some songs seem too big to fit their own shoes. Sure, Queens of the Stone Age have always had a penchant for the melodramatic, in fact, it would be strange to hear their music not pushed to the limit, railing against oblivion, but at points, such as moments in ‘Fairweather Friends’ and ‘I Appear Missing’,  and indeed the entirety of the maelstrom of ‘Kalopsia’, it appears as though the dusty part of desert rock is gone. Then there’s the tragedy of title track ‘…Like Clockwork’, which is a completely mistaken way to end such a jam packed album. Instead of going full throttle, QOTSA loosen their grip and let victory slip off their dicks like the broken condom that led to the baby that led to your 9-to-5 clock examining job and the mortgage that has you by the balls, all for a house that looks like something a Star Wars Storm Trooper threw up.

Despite all this, it’s classic Queens of the Stone Age on display here. Instead of going all out alien, they’ve brought back what they know best: desert rock. They’ve proved that they can bust out an earth-quaking jam with the best of them, that their musicianship is nigh-perfect, and that their lyrical prowess for nihilsm and woe is next to none. This is an amazing record, and while not one of their best (I mean, who could top the genius of ‘Songs for the Deaf’?), it basks in an apocalyptic desert light, riding into the sunset on a skeleton horse, bound for fuck knows what. Nah, Queens of the Stone Age more or less fucking nailed it on this one.