Spending Halloween With Queens of the Stone Age
As the witching hour of Halloween night approached during Queens of the Stone Age‘s epic tour finale at Los Angeles’ Forum, frontman Josh Homme, costumed as a priest, conjured up the devil in the form of his pal and former QOTSA bassist, Nick Oliveri, wearing long red horns with his signature Mephistophelean beard. With a grin, Homme stepped back from the mic to wrangle his guitar while the erstwhile bandmate (who was fired a decade ago) stepped up to sing a five-song encore carved from the heyday of the duo’s partnership — fierce tunes from 2000’s Rated R and 2002’s Songs for the Deaf.
It was a historical bit of magic — this is only the second time Oliveri performed with QOTSA since he left the band — made all the more poignant coming as the centerpiece to a muscular set in which Homme and company wielded the breadth of the band’s 16-year discography to cap the two-year world trek in support of 2013’s masterful … Like Clockwork on a holiday celebrating the world of the dead.
Queens of the Stone Age had taken the cavernous arena’s stage behind a huge screen, appearing as ghostly shadows grooving to Homme’s chilling tenor and Michael Shuman’s pitch-black bass as they played “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” the opening salvo of Clockwork, an album famously borne from the aftermath of Homme’s own near-death experience during an ill-fated knee surgery in 2010.
A roar issued from the sweaty pit packed with costumed fans — several of them decked out as eerie, bandaged, bloodied characters from the album’s animated videos — when the scrim lifted revealing the entire band in black suits and clerical collars. Shuman’s bass led the proceedings back to 2000’s “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” and soon the entire Forum was chanting ‘Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol … cocaine,’ along with “Father” Homme.
“It’s time to get dark and dirty,” the six-foot five-inch tall head priest with the knuckle-tattoos, diabolical falsetto and killer riffs said, by way of introducing the fairly rare treat of the angular, driving “Someone’s in the Wolf’ (from 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze) almost halfway through QOTSA’s set.
But Homme wasn’t quite right — that dark and dirty time had begun much earlier. Though leavened with goodies from the past (including 2005’s rollicking, cowbell-tastic “Little Sister”), Clockwork, the band’s first No. 1 album, had dominated the beginning half of the kinetic set, including the swaggering, bizarro-world rock disco of “Smooth Sailing” (about life that is anything but) and “If I Had a Tail,” with Homme’s leg cocked on his pedal-board, riding the swells of rhythm he, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita, wove in with those of Shuman and drummer Jon Theodore.
Of course, the QOTSA-curated festivities had certainly begun long before they hit the stage. The “Blackout” haunted house they’d invited to be part of the event “nearly scared the d— right off my body,” Homme quipped. Early in the evening, the unabashedly sexy burlesque of the Suicide Girls had taken over a square stage in the middle of the arena, with ladies in X-shaped black pasties and various themed-props dancing to Halloween-y tunes including “The Time Warp” and “Thriller.”
It’s no coincidence that Oliveri’s Uncontrollable was the first band of the night; Oliveri and Homme’s friendship has grown in recent years, and Homme invited him to be part of the bill. Swaddled in SWAT-team gear, Uncontrollable delivered a tight, pummeling 30-minute set highlighted by the relentless “Human Cannonball Explodes” from the brand new album Leave Me Alone.
After an interlude of gory clips from vintage horror films projected onto the large screen hiding the main stage, it was time for a complete change of pace with the rockabilly rave-up of JD McPherson, a rollicking melange of sax, standup bass, a swinging rhythm guitar that felt like it came straight out of rock’s earliest beginnings. In fact, the Broken Arrow, Okla. native dedicated a song to any and all Eddie Cochran fans in the house.
The Kills followed an audience costume contest (the two guys in neanderthal drag as literal queens of the stone age weren’t surprising, but who knew there would be at least three pairs of spooky twin girls from The Shining?), but the band’s entrance with glow-in-the-dark patches covering them head to toe — a field of bright stars on Alison Mosshart and geometric designs on Jamie Hince — served their undulating rock very well as the quartet of drummers, in black cloaks helped them beat the time. Highlights of the set included “Heart Is a Beating Drum,” “Pots and Pans” and “Monkey 23.”
Before Queens of the Stone Age played, an extended clip of an early performance of the Cramps, a band close to Josh Homme’s heart, was shown on the big screen in homage to the late frontman Lux Interior — and the fact that it was the Cramps’ annual Halloween shows that Homme has said inspired him to put together this big QOTSA show at the Forum.
QOTSA would later cruise into the second half of their hour-and-a-half-long set with the soulful “Make It Wit Chu” (from 2007’s Era Vulgaris), Homme in full-croon, before the band kicked into 1998’s hypnotic “Regular John,” the lone song on the set from the band’s first, self-titled album. A two-fer of favorites from Songs for the Deaf, “No One Knows” and “Go With the Flow,” signaled that album’s domination of the back half of the night — and whipped the crowd into a frenzy, with the ever-cool Homme jokingly pulling a comb out of his suit pocket in the middle of the former tune to slick back his hair.
The entire five-song first encore included Oliveri on vocals, revving up with “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” and winding down with “Gonna Leave You,” both from Songs for the Deaf.
Moments later, Homme, Shuman, Fertita, Van Leeuwen and Theodore returned for one more encore, one last song to cap the night. Giving a nod to a favorite closer during the entire run of the … Like Clockwork tour, a song whose title was so apt for the holiday, the urgent riffs of “A Song for the Dead” peeled off the stage followed by Theodore’s thunderous beats — and the six-minute monster touched off giddy, headbanging throughout the Forum as midnight struck. Homme came out to the edge of the stage, volleying chords and rhythms at the crowd as a blizzard of orange and black confetti blanketed everything.
He crossed himself, bowed slightly, waved. He and the band almost left just like that — with the sonic detonation of the final song of the night and the long tour hanging in the air — but a photographer on Theodore’s drum riser got them back out front and center, capturing a picture of the moment: the band with the full force of its elated audience right there with them.
Queens of the Stone Age — Setlist, Oct. 31, 2014
“Keep Your Eyes Peeled”
“Feel Good Hit of the Summer”
“The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”
“My God Is the Sun”
“If I Had a Tail”
“Someone’s in the Wolf”
“The Vampyre of Time and Memory”
“I Sat by the Ocean”
“Make It Wit Chu”
“No One Knows”
“Go With the Flow”
“You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire” (Nick Oliveri guest vocals)
“Quick and to the Pointless” (Nick Oliveri guest vocals)
“Auto Pilot” (Nick Oliveri guest vocals)
“Another Love Song” (Nick Oliveri guest vocals)
“Gonna Leave You” (Nick Oliveri guest vocals)
“A Song for the Dead”
Queens of the Stone Age — Los Angeles’ Forum