It’s a late summer evening at the outdoor Budweiser Stage in Toronto. Pulsating spotlights punch through the outer edges of a smoke shroud as the villains take centre stage in darkness. A foreboding instrumental crescendo builds in tandem with the lighting, slowly illuminating the five silhouettes. The intensifying inflections of the ghoul-chorus are broken by repeated punches of the snare drum. This is beguiling bombast of Feet Don’t Fail Me, and the revered cadre of villains on stage are Queens of the Stone Age.
This night marked only their 5th North American show of 2017 having spent the majority of the summer in Europe and Australia. But this one was to be a milestone.
With their menacing new LP Villains (which Johnny had first crack at reviewing last month) just then beginning to seep into the pours of the zeitgeist, this show would for many be the first opportunity to hear their new songs.
Towering commandant Josh Homme opted to trade pleasantries for barbs when a balloon landed at his feet early on. “I didn’t come here to play with your fuck toys,” he derided. He then took a knife from a stagehand and stabbed at it before leading the band into a searing My God Is The Sun. It sounded apparent early that stage monitor issues were plaguing them as the vocals fluctuated in and out of key. But these issues were swiftly mitigated.
At their first two shows of the year (which we covered back in June), they didn’t seem overly eager to let the proverbial cat out of the bag. But at this point, having road-battled many of the new tracks, they finally seemed ready to untether the Mark Ronson produced dance-jams of Villains from self-imposed bondage.
The Evil Has Landed was accelerated and incising; the thunderous power-chord outro fleetingly augmented by Homme’s war-cry ululation. They’d sharpened their knives and appeared ready to use them.
“Everyone wants to put you in a cage,” Homme said prefacing the existential sly-hooks of Domesticated Animals. “Today is the day the wilderness comes to reclaim everything.”
Enveloping vertical light rods were scattered at the edges of the stage making the large amphitheatre feel compact despite the near 16,000 fans on hand. Toronto turned out hard making this the largest headlining show the band had ever played on the continent.
Tenured drummer Jon Theodore, now on his second album cycle with the band, was a mechanized, frenetic figure throughout the evening. A blur of cyborg appendages gave renewed impetus to Queens’ breakout hit No One Knows.
This was a dance-party to anesthetize from the world outside. Overweight despots with suitably cruel hair-stylists may have been engaged in a nuclear-armed-dick-measuring-contest elsewhere in the world, but you wouldn’t know it observing the fans at this show. Seeing Queens of the Stone Age live was and often is an emancipation from such poison, and never was this more evident than when they dusted off the pairing of Avon and The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret. Hips were shakin’. Libations were taken. Drunks were filling the aisles. The sense of inhibition-free revelry amongst the throngs was as palpable as it was refreshing.
Homme huffed furiously on a smoke as he noodled around on his guitar. This was the carnal Make It Wit Chu during which one fan tossed a Canadian pot-leaf flag on stage. “This is why we love you,” Homme extolled before draping over an amp in back.
Red spotlights brightened the haze. Bassist Mikey “Shoe” Shuman’s infectious atonal riff led the charge into the calamitous Head Like A Haunted House, another of Villians’ finer cuts. Homme’s vocals were clear and truculent. Already the brief troubles he experienced early in the set were but an evanescing afterthought.
While they did lay the new material on heavily, they didn’t disregard any of their records. In fact, the way they pick with seeming impulsivity through their catalogue without ever disrupting the flow of the performance is a testament to the cohesiveness of their oeuvre. The Way We Used To Do into Little Sister into Go With The Flow. It fit so tight.
Following Millionaire, they tore into habitual closer A Song For The Dead as guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen bounced around rabidly. The chaotic strobing disarray of the lighting was visually emblematic of the manic turbulence occurring down below.
Queens of the Stone Age continue on as paragons of their class. Unabating. Uncompromising. Singular. Hungry.
With villains such as these, who needs heroes?
Support for the show was provided by UK rock duo Royal Blood. Touring on their sophomore LP How Did We Get So Dark, they threw down a tenacious set of their own.
* Make It Wit Chu was added following Fortress and Sick, Sick, Sick was removed.