It’s fitting that Queens of the Stone Age broke into mainstream success with an album called “Songs for the Deaf,” as many of us who banged our heads along with the band’s two-hour Fresno performance definitely heard a slight ringing in our ears as we left.
Bosses, forgive your dazed, audibly challenged employees on Tuesday. When the rock comes on a Monday – and it often does in Fresno, as bands move from weekend shows in larger California cities – we go. And the lucky few who stood or sat in a criminally under-filled Selland Arena on a Monday got all they could handle.
Josh Homme and company did everything they could to bring the roof down. The riff-based rock with a thumping drumline kept everyone nodding in unison.
It’s funny – I bought my first Queens album, the above listed, about 15 years ago, and I realized halfway through my third time seeing them that I barely know any of the words to my favorite songs. It’s all about the musicianship framed around that undeniable groove.
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I always think of Homme as one of the coolest, most laid-back rockers alive. And yet, there’s really nothing laid-back about Queens’ sound.
It was my first time listening intently to the band’s many starts, stops and sounds as a critic. You never want to say you’re looking for a mistake, but that’s exactly what you’re doing. You want to catch the musicians on something – show how smart you are even though they’re the ones living on stage as rock gods and you’re the one taking cell phone notes in the audience.
I really didn’t come up with much. The band is remarkably tight – especially for a five-piece. You see a lot of tight three-piece bands and the occasional four-piece that operates on one wavelength. But getting five musicians on the same page is tricky, particularly with the complex material that Queens pulled off over and over on Monday.
It all starts with drummer Jon Theodore. It’s definitely Homme’s band, but Theodore – the only band member Homme introduced – sets the agenda. He looked at the four men holding stringed instruments in front of him and told them that a pounding groove would be leaving the station precisely at 9 p.m. and reaching its destination at 11. You can get on it, or get left behind in its wake.
The musicianship was solid throughout, and Homme’s vocal held strong for most of the night. He can sometimes fall into that blues frontman cycle in which the vocals just carry the song until the next solo, but he belted out a few solid lines Monday.
Wobbly, stick-like lights and thick smoke allowed for some pretty neat optical effects to go along with the ear pounding.
And my God, if you left before the encore performance of “A Song for the Dead,” you should pray for death. It was as dark and heavy as rock music can get without drifting into metal. I don’t think Homme even bothered to sing words. He just sort of melodically mumbled along while the guitars did their work. The song ended and started up again about seven times, which meant six rushes of adrenaline for a concert that wasn’t quite over.
No one is going to tell their grandchildren about this show, but Queens of the Stone Age is one of those bands that I will always try to see if they are playing nearby.
Once you’ve seen them in concert, you’re unlikely to be shocked at any future concerts. They are straightforward: guitars, bass, drums, Homme humming as he does and maybe a few cool lights. That’s it, and that’s enough.