Queens of the Stone Age, Chelsea Wolfe Bayou Music Center February 9, 2014
On Sunday night, it had been more than six years since Queens of the Stone Age last played Houston, and boy, was the capacity crowd at Bayou Music Center ever ready to welcome the band back to town. The last time the Queens showed their faces around these parts, George W. Bush was in the White House and the big stage at Bayou Place was still known as the Verizon Wireless Theater. After such a long period of inactivity, even die-hard local fans were beginning to wonder if QOTSA was still a going concern.
Those fears were put to rest last summer with the release of ...Like Clockwork, a chart-topping, Grammy-nominated batch of dark and slithering rock and roll that's got the Queens back on the road again. A large and enthusiastic crowd packed into BMC last night to hear the latest tunes, check out the new guys and revel in the classics.
First, though, we were treated to the doomed stylings of Sacramento's Chelsea Wolfe. An ethereal mishmash of depressed black metal, droning alternative and plaintive folk, the songwriter's slow and pained songs didn't exactly deliver the rollicking guitar rave-ups that QOTSA fans were so ready for on Sunday, but the music was lush and intriguing enough to keep their attention all the same.
Spectacular columns of colored light rained down upon Wolfe in her stoner-witch attire, softening the abrasive edges of her sound as the singer's soft and chilling voice rang out clear amid an ocean of reverb. When the sturdy shafts of light broke free from the stage to bathe the audience in mind-bending strobes at the end of her set, a huge cheer went up -- partly due to the impressively vivid eruption, and partly because Josh Homme and the gang couldn't be far behind.
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The Queens kicked off their rock-solid set with the same tune they opened with in 2007, the driving "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel like a Millionaire" from 2002's landmark Songs for the Deaf. That reliably hard-rocking slab of alt-metal had fists pumping and hips shaking right of the bat, but the crowd's enthusiasm shifted into another gear when it was immediately followed up by "No One Knows," the band's 12-year-old breakthrough single and the first big singalong of the evening.
Having won the crowd's good graces with a couple of tunes from the band's "classic" period, QOTSA proved they're no nostalgia act with the weirder, spacier "My God is the Sun" from ...Like Clockwork. All night, they played a solid mix of songs from throughout their career, with new drummer Jon Theodore (ex-Mars Volta) providing a fresh and dynamic backbone for the group's supple, eclectic sound.
The Queens' diversity of musical expression was never more apparent on Sunday than it was in the very middle of their set, with the slinky and deranged guitar of "Smooth Sailing" bleeding over into the Gary Numan-esque intro to "Misfit Love." When that tune ended on a bright, guitar-pop note, it was followed up with the piano-and-falsetto mope of "...Like Clockwork," which itself evolved into Floydian space blues. It was organic, impressive stuff.
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Naturally, though, the crowd went wildest for the hardest-rocking tracks, especially "Sick, Sick, Sick" and "Go With the Flow." Both were performed with gleaming rock and roll precision that sent hundreds of cameraphones into the air. The biggest singalong of the night came during the encore, with the audience screaming right along with Homme's shopping list of intoxicants on "Feel Good Hit of the Summer." C-c-c-c-c-cocaine!
Given the Queens' history, all the feel-good hits may have to last us a while. While Homme has pledged that the band will re-enter the studio after this tour's conclusion, it wouldn't be terribly shocking if it's another six years or so before their next visit, and who knows what they might sound (and look) like by then.
On Sunday night, though, it was enough that the Queens of the Stone Age were alive, well and on top of their game, sending us home slicked with sweat in the middle of winter. Like clockwork, indeed.
Personal Bias: C-c-c-c-c-cocaine!
The Crowd: Pumped up, chatty millenials.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Oh, this is my shit! THIS IS THE SONG!"
Random Notebook Dump: Despite their preponderance of radio hits, QOTSA is all too happy to challenge their audience with some seriously long, shrill jams. Most of the audience was fully on board with that.
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