Queens of the Stone Age at Roy Wilkins, 5/6/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess

Queens of the Stone Age
Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Perched on a couple of tree trunks for legs, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme is a towering presence. During Tuesday's show at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, he had the space to became even more enormous. Owe it to his rafters-scraping vocal range, and the band's steroid-laden rock grooves -- cut with raw blues, metal, and funk supplements -- blasting through the speakers. Also, owe it to Homme's occasional restraint.

Slugging out the majority of last year's ...Like Clockwork and a strong assortment of past bangers, Homme kept the boom boom riffa riffa boom boom coming, for the most part. His loose-limbed presence seemed like it would eventually envelop a crowd of 4,000 or so in attendance. Just when the mosh pit would really start to spread, he'd pull back.

See also:
Slideshow: Queens of the Stone Age rock out at the Roy

QOTSA's momentum manipulation happened for the first time seven songs into the set. After slashing, banging, and wickedly asserting themselves for a spell with classics of yesterday ("No One Knows") and today ("My God is the Sun") Homme slid behind the keyboard for "...Like Clockwork." He's got a cleaner and less lascivious vocal delivery than Axl Rose, but clearly shares an appreciation for the power of a big piano moment to increase friction with the lack thereof. This gesture was appreciated not just for adding clarity in the mix, but also for its emotional impact on the crowd. "Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know?" Homme sang. The moshing eventually did, though.

Photos by Erik Hess

The Roy was a bit of a distraction sound-wise (see my note at the end) but the five-piece Queens seemed largely unaffected by the bass and drums devouring the rest of the mix like a high school football team let loose in an Old Country Buffet. The songs were expressive, the pace quickened when it needed to, drummer Jon Theodore murdered his kit, and it was a tight set. Tighter than a fistful of hundreds, generally.

"St. Paul, I hope you're having a good time. Sorry, I'm a bit under the weather," Homme said in one of his few interactions with the crowd that didn't feature his falsetto range. "I hope everyone is drunk."

After a fist-pumping, cowbell-enhanced "Little Sister" provoked a few more spilled beers, the Roy's acoustics showed their limitations. The venue's power to engulf and muddy a nuanced performance was apparent as QOTSA attempted two gorgeous, prog-fueled anthems from their latest album. "Kalopsia" is heart-stopping in studio form, but its slow-building balladry turned into a plodding thunderstorm. It was like trying to glimpse a Dali painting by putting your eye up to a pinhole. The sexual swagger of "I Appear Missing" was significant in Homme's occasional physicality, but it was only near its end when a decrescendo coda -- sans drums and bass -- allowed its blood to flow as bright red.   

"Even if it's terrible, let's all pretend it's wonderful." Homme said of Lullabies to Paralyze-era rarity "The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died," which launches with a carnival organ and was lit up with lights pointed every which way like an excellent '80s glamour shot. This pretending was the attitude most folks seemed to apply to the night's sound limitations, and it overwhelmingly worked.

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