Review: Queens of the Stone Age are back; first show after infamous kick

What: Queens of the Stone Age with Eagles of Death Metal
When: Monday
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre

Queens of the Stone Age strode on stage Monday to the strains of Walk the Night, a quirky 1979 song by The Skatt Brothers that has opened most shows on the rock band’s current tour. That the tune has some swagger made it the perfect ice-breaker for the evening — a night of rock ’n’ roll at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre that had fans of the band unsure of what to expect. Josh Homme, frontman for the band, was in the news for all the wrong reasons last month, after kicking a photographer (a female one, as it turned out) in what appeared to be a malicious move during a Los Angeles concert. Queens of the Stone Age’s first Victoria concert since 2008 was also the band’s first concert and public appearance since the Dec. 9 incident, and eyes were certainly on Homme heading into the show.

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He didn’t address the audience until two songs in, and when he did it was brief. “It’s wonderful to be here,” he said. “Thank you so much.” He would later introduce the song, I Sat By the Ocean, with cryptic words (“Sometimes things go wrong, and when they’re wrong it’s too late”) that seemed to address the kick. Homme grew more chatty as the night developed, but for the most part the band spoke with its fingers and feet before 5,670 fans on this night. Perhaps that was the right approach, especially for a band coming out of a dark period of heavy criticism. Theirs was a thunderous 90-minute appearance, with some of the heaviest bass I’ve ever heard from a rock band in the arena, and some of the mightiest riffs. Musically, it was a triumphant return. Slow as molasses in some spots, but triumphant nonetheless.

Fun was the flavour of the first set by Eagles of Death Metal, a half-serious California quartet that mined every riff-rock cliche for gold. Even those who were unfamiliar with the band had to figure something fun was coming their way before takeoff: The band’s pre-set music included ’70s soft-rock favourites Pilot and Starland Vocal Band, chosen — presumably — to set the tongue-in-cheek tone that followed.

The Eagles of Death Metal stuck to their plan and turned the stage into a kitschy free-for-all, with enough cowbell, high kicks, and dirty riffs to make Blue Oyster Cult proud. Singer-guitarist Jesse Hughes was a hyperactive host, punctuating every sentence of stage banter during the 45-minute set with a “Can you dig it? Amen!” coda. Not surprisingly, Hughes is an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church; the stage was his pulpit. There was very little the band hadn’t thought through with regards to the on-stage action. Even tapestries of exercise guru Richard Simmons were hung with care, over the guitar amplifiers, a testament to the band’s total commitment to comic-inspired boogie rock.

Eagles of Death Metal share a sense of the absurd with headliners Queens of the Stone Age. Homme befriended Hughes when the two were California high schoolers. “The miraculous things two little redheaded boys from Palm Desert can do, can you dig it, Amen!” Hughes screamed at one point. We can most certainly dig it, Jesse.

Queens of the Stone Age may have an active funny bone off stage, but they approach their craft with tad more sincerity and skill when it’s time to pay the bills. The seven-time Grammy Award nominees leaned heavily for material on their most recent recordings, 2017’s Villains and 2013’s Like Clockwork, which was both a plus (Like Clockwork has some underrated gems) and a minus. Villains is a bit of killer but not a lot of filler, so the deep cuts from the album weren’t as well received as classics from the band’s catalogue, such as No One Knows, Sick, Sick, Sick, and Make it Wit Chu.

The group has undergone some changes, both sonically and structurally over the years (Villains, the band’s new album, was produced by Mark Ronson, a strange move given the British studio whiz’s track record as a dance-pop dynamo). And in the eight years since the band’s previous Victoria date at the arena, it has moved on from drummer Joey Castillo, adding  drummer Jon Theodore to an airtight lineup that includes guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, keyboardist Dean Fertita and bassist Michael Shuman.

The moves were not made in vain. The band functioned as one Monday, with all the heft of a rock band at the peak of its game. Too many new songs that added nothing to the performance were in the set, but that’s what you get with a band like Queens of the Stone Age. In spite of recent events, it was a welcome return from the modern-day kings of gritty rock ’n’ roll.

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