Review: Queens of the Stone Age bring roaring mayhem to Mahaffey Theater

A grimy look back at the Tue., Feb. 4 show, with pics & setlist

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click to enlarge Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age - Tracy May
Tracy May
Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age

On Tuesday night, Queens of the Stone Age unleashed a battering ram of heavy, fuck-your-face rock n’ roll onto St. Petersburg, shook the walls of Mahaffey Theater, spurred a few thousand double-fisted devil horns to raise and pump in the air, and made a believer out of fans (like myself) who’d come to like them a whole lot over the years, but never truly appreciated the allure until seeing the Josh Homme-powered outfit live, in the flesh, taking command of and holding us in their grip with pure magnetic force. [Words by Leilani, photos by Tracy.]

click to enlarge Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age - Tracy May
Tracy May
Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age

  • Tracy May
  • Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age

It was raw, intense, metallic seething and high-octane screaming, sometimes diving into dark and ominous territories, other times strutting on a hard and sexy groove or chugging forward in a brooding rumble building to an ominous roar, or heaving and churning and swirling in dense washes of psychedelia, or occasionally veering into quieter, more contemplative territory, all of it set against an eye-popping screen of ever-changing visuals ranging from flaming waves and strings of color to animations of skulls floating in rivers of blood or pointy black pitchforks flying and twisting across a Songs for the Deaf red surface. [More after the jump...]

click to enlarge Jon Theodore, QOTSA - Tracy May
Tracy May
Jon Theodore, QOTSA

The musicians filtered onto the stage to an old-fashioned black-and-white movie reel countdown, soon enough blasting off into the ass-kicking motorcycle revving grind of “You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire,”

Homme’s animal magnetism turned on full blast and hitting like a ton of bricks as he growled the refrain, “Gimme toro, gimme some more” and laid out chunky cock-rocking guitar riffs.

Queens began as a tightly coiled, well-oiled machine that, as the night progressed, abandoned any holding back in favor of rocking the fuck out. Newest member Jon Theodore (formerly of The Mars Volta) bashed his kit with vigorous wallops and matching bangs of his untamed afro-ed head. Michael Shuman was a frenetic hair-thrashing force whose lanky muscular body twisted, leapt and sprang like a rubber band as he pounded low-end thunder, grime, fuzz and bombs. Dean Fertita was quiet but deadly on a little extra of everything — keys, guitar, backing vocals — and even Troy Van Leeuwen, in tidy three-piece black-on-black suit and tie, could be seen whipping his white-streaked black hair back and forth.

click to enlarge Michael Shuman, QOTSA - Tracy May
Tracy May
Michael Shuman, QOTSA

Homme was the propulsive center, a strapping masculine hulk of a frontman who’d look just as natural wielding a sledgehammer as he does his ax. On this night, he seemed relaxed, threw out some sexy grins and rolled his hips as he strummed crunchy riffs or fired out precise solos or shreds, his vocals capable of reaching clear, delicately soaring high notes and just as strong in a live setting as on disc. He chattered a surprising amount, directing repeated Lincoln/shotgun jokes at the folks in the Loge boxes to the left of the stage and introducing songs with brief explanations (for “Kalopsia”: “This here’s a love song. It’s a good time to take a leak, take a chance, and find yourself at the mercy of someone else.”) Among the memorable moments of the night — the rather humorous contrast of Van Leeuwen jumping between double-neck guitar and maracas for the eeevil roil of “My God is the Sun”; the setlist collision of slinky strutting “I Wanna Make It Wit Chu” into the ferociously grinding “Sick Sick Sick” and subsequent tripped-out whirl of “Better Living Through Chemistry” (is the song over, is it still going, wait, what song is this again?); and an encore with a bona fide Josh Homme moment.

The band returned to encore, Homme taking his first and only seat of the night at piano before launching into the poignant melancholy of “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.” Alas, the spell was broken when a dazed and confused dude bumbled onto the stage (where the hell did he come from?) and beelined straight to Homme, who was startled from a rather earnest and serene musical moment into full-blown What The Fuck?!?! mode followed in short order by righteously pissed off as he practically throttled the dude off the stage. After raging for a few minutes (best rebuke: “I’m here to play for you, not jerk you off!” - watch the video in full here), he made a few lewd gestures, flicked a bird and gagged himself with it, then returned to his seat, cueing his bandmates and launching gracefully back into the song.

click to enlarge QOTSA at Mahaffey Theater - Tracy May
Tracy May
QOTSA at Mahaffey Theater

His response showed surprising restraint considering his history, and makes perfect sense in hindsight. See, “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” was the first song Homme wrote after he died for a few minutes during a routine knee operation. This song symbolizes the start of his road back from a dark place he’d retreated to after spending months bedridden, creatively depressed and examining his life, it’s a cathartic up-welling reflected in the song’s hopeless and forlorn narrator, who won his battle against the “vampyre of time and memories” but still feels incomplete, his survival anticlimactic. In sum, the song carries a lot of weight and meaning, and was probably the worst song to interrupt if you’re a fan claiming adoration because you’re essentially ruining a moment Homme is trying to share with you.

Homme apologized to the ladies in the front row where the expelled fan had landed, then closed the show with “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “Song for the Dead” before leaving on a long squeal of reverb that continued until a roadie scurried onto the stage to turn off the amps.

Rarely do I walk out of a show after seeing a band for the first time feeling like I got an aggressive fucking. But Queens popped my cherry, good and proper. And I liked it.

click to enlarge Chelsea Wolfe - Tracy May
Tracy May
Chelsea Wolfe

Chelsea Wolfe proved a strong opener with her dark, dramatic and highly intriguing blend of heavy ethereal shoegaze, hard-driving gothic-tronic rock, and ominous sludgy stoner noise, her dulcet vocals drops of bright melody amid the haze or echoing in eerie throaty calls. Her guitarist played a guitar with cello-like effects that added a chamber rock feel. The keyboardist looped and layered atmospherics then jumped on bass and added fuzz-coated low-end to the mix, while the drummer kept a steady pace, all of it roiling to an earsplitting finish.


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
Misfit Love
…Like Clockwork
Long Slow Goodbye
If I Had a Tail
Fairweather Friends
Little Sister
I Sat by the Ocean
Make It Wit Chu
Sick, Sick, Sick
Better Living Through Chemistry
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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