Queens of the Stone Age demand a countdown. Over the past 15 years, they have kept hard rock in view of the mainstream, with an alchemy of crunching riffs, sex-filled swagger and an airy, mysterious cool belying their desert origins. Returning to promote sixth album, …Like Clockwork, the excitement around the O2 can only swell as the seconds tick away and voices join in marking those final moments off. Josh Homme, clad in plaid, takes his spot front and centre and kicks into ‘…Millionaire’ with intent.
Initially, there is no time for table-setting, nor for the edgy, tension-filled atmospheres that encumber …Like Clockwork. No, tonight QOTSA are here to give the people what they came to see, which might explain why ‘No One Knows’ comes roaring out of the speakers immediately after the opener, why bodies start to surge towards the stage, why heads bang with every drum roll, and why that immortal riff is yelled out en masse.
The momentum continues over into ‘My God Is the Sun’, with its roaring climax, and ‘Burn the Witch’, which has this sold-out crowd chanting along long before those two deathly thuds hit the sternum. ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ and ‘Monster in the Parasol’ (Homme: “This is about LSD.”) also make surprise appearances.
The new material makes up a plurality of tonight’s set, thankfully holding the crowd’s attention with consumate ease. ‘I Sat by the Ocean’ sees Homme shimmying on the spot, while ‘…Like Clockwork’ slows things to a crawl. With Homme deploying a rough falsetto and Dean Fertita caressing the keys of his piano ever so delicately, the eye’s path to the stage is slowly filled with lighters – not iPhones, lighters.
A short break is taken after the scuzzy ‘Misfit Love’ while Homme tells an amusing anecdote about a stowaway fan eating McDonald’s in the back of the QOTSA van. “Friend, what the fuck are you doing here?” Homme asks of the cheeky Dubliner; “I’m hungry”, he replies, before being kicked out and chasing after the band for “twelve blocks”, giving them the middle finger at every red light.
After a quick blitz through ‘Little Sister’, things become decidedly looser. With most of the big numbers out of the way, the “olé, olé” chanters think it’s their time to shine, when really it’s just an opportunity for the band to down some tequila and luxuriate in their expansive seediness. Homme has an idea of where this is all going: “…let’s have a drink and hopefully fuck the shit out of each other.”
The mechanical jerk of ‘Smooth Sailing’ sees a horde of girls rise from the crowd and onto the shoulders of significant others/random lads in aphrodisiacal union, and ‘Make It Wit Chu’ is equally dirty, with thousands singing along to that overly blunt chat-up line of a chorus. ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ goes on forever, paying no mind to a slowly waning crowd, thoroughly seduced but tiring under the weight of extended guitar solos, but ‘Go with the Flow’ quickly fixes any damage done, and gives proceedings a spine after a lengthy period of free form lust.
Returning for a grandstanding encore of ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’ and ‘I Appear Missing’, the band milk the crowd for all they’re worth, and the build to ‘Missing’s cathartic riff is stupendously done, teased with exacting cruelty until that ungodly squall can no longer be contained, erupting from Troy Van Leeuwen’s double-necked Gibson SG.
Twilight descends on the screen behind, but it’s not over. In two hours, QOTSA completely wrecked this crowd, with bruising hard rock, slow, gyrating boogie and stratospheric wonder, only to sucker-punch the O2 at the last moment with a final blast of ‘A Song for the Dead’. A floor-wide mosh ensues and some seated fans make their way to the barrier in desperation. “We’re never gonna forget you”, Homme promises. One has no trouble believing him.