Queens of the Stone Age review – gonzoid riffage and hellacious swagger

Wembley Arena, London
Tearing up the rulebook, rock’s last remaining outlaws create a visceral, vast and heavy sound that is scoured of machismo and full of wit

You really don’t wanna make Josh Homme angry. But overzealous Wembley staff, training spotlights on an overexcitable audience, have only gone and done it tonight. “Security, these people can do whatever the fuck they want,” he drawls like John Wayne, if Wayne were 6ft 4in of hard-living rock hero, puffing on an illicit cigarette. “It’s Queens of the Stone Age. Go crazy.”

Homme might deal in a very old-school brand of masculinity but his band play heavy rock with every iota of hoary macho cliche excised, their brawny riffs crackling with wit and sensuality, and scoured of machismo – a revelatory, redemptive mission they’ve been pursuing for more than two decades.

Rock’s last remaining outlaws, they take a dim view of rules, sliding between genres at will and owning each and every one, from the blitzing attack of Monsters in the Parasol to the sleek metal of Avon to the Zeppelin-goes-disco stomp of Feet Don’t Fail Me, from their new Mark Ronson-produced album Villains.

Homme and his bandmates – the Ant Hill Mob to his imperious Penelope Pitstop – are not remotely intimidated by the cavernous, impersonal venue: amps dialled satisfyingly past 11, they careen dangerously about the stage, rough-housing the lights sprouting from the stage like trees. This piratical derring-do doesn’t distract them from the job at hand, however – the precision with which they attack their riffs and their on-a-dime turns and twists is breathtaking. They rock like machines, albeit machines of grace, soul and sinful, motorik funk. The result is chaos on rails; the tension is electric, the sound loud and vast. Their muscular, metallic surface doesn’t preclude moments of vulnerability, however. The turbulent, inky waters of I Appear Missing is a musing on Homme’s 2011 brush with death and the depression that followed.

Queens of the Stone Age
Josh Homme. Photograph: David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns

Mostly, though, QotSA are a physical, visceral thrill, a fairground ride of riffs, hooks and hellacious swagger. A final brawl through the gonzoid riffage of A Song for the Dead climaxes with Homme and his guitar enjoying a destructive tangle with one of those light-trees. As the lights come up, he limps off the stage, betraying, for the first time tonight, evidence of the leg injury that has dogged him this year. It’s a rare reminder that he might be mortal, and leaves you wondering how much longer the 44-year-old can continue to deliver such relentless entertainment, night after unforgiving night. Savour the greatest rock’n’roll band on the planet while you can, then. It’s Queens of the Stone Age. Go crazy.

•At Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 23 November. Box office: 0131-228 1155.


Stevie Chick

The GuardianTramp

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