Most regular gig-goers will agree that the best place to see a band play is in a club. Rock clubs present an intimate setting, and since the audience and the band are essentially right on top of each other, each side can feed off the other’s energy. When Queens of the Stone Age took the stage on a warm Thursday night at Charlotte’s Uptown Amphitheater, an outdoor mini-shed roughly half the size of Washington’s White River Amphitheatre, they brought that sweaty club atmosphere to an outdoor venue through sheer force. Only stopping to thank the audience and the occasional cigarette break, Queens of the Stone Age have spent the summer reestablishing themselves as one of the live circuit’s most ferocious bands, and as the season for outdoor shows came to a close, they sent it off with a muscular and loud two-hour set that proved the Californian quintet to be as vital as ever.
Opening with the brutal “You Think I’m Not Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire”, QOTSA played to their strengths early on, playing eight hard, uptempo songs in a row. The band’s current lineup – singer/guitarist Joshua Homme, guitarist/keyboardists Dean Fertita and Troy Van Leeuwan, bassist Michael Shuman, and drummer Jon Theodore – have only been playing together since early this year, but their chemistry is undeniable. All night long, Fertita and the rhythm section would pound away while Homme and Van Leeuwen led the attack, but each song incorporated each member in an integral way. Shuman and Van Leeuwen often flourished Homme’s guitar runs with leads of their own, and as the three members in the front row of the stage setup, the trio thrashed about with fervor, often teaming up on chorus vocals and jams during the longer songs. Theodore and Fertita, both accomplished musicians even before they joined QOTSA, played a more supportive role, adding texture and rhythmic fury respectively. Even though the excellent …Like Clockwork is a studio-intensive affair just like each of QOTSA’s albums, the quintet exchanged nuance for intensity without losing any of the songs’ intensity.
The setlist was split nearly equally between …Like Clockwork and catalog material, which was good, because fan appreciation of the band’s sixth album has only grown since its release in June, and despite the difficult recording process, the band seems to be fond of the end result too. All but two of the album’s ten songs were represented in the setlist, comparatively more than the amount of new material represented on the Era Vulgaris and Lullabies to Paralyze tours, and each new song was accompanied by visuals from Boneface, the artist behind …Like Clockwork‘s artwork. “I Sat By The Ocean”, “If I Had A Tail”, and “My God Is The Sun” already feel like setlist staples, “…Like Clockwork” and “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” offer Homme a chance to show his more reflective side at the piano, and “I Appear Missing”, the album’s emotional centerpiece, has changed from a six-minute slow burn that gloriously collapses in on itself to a ten-minute guitar solo competition that also gloriously collapses in on itself after the band has exhausted its cathartic dynamics. Most of the catalog material played came from the band’s 2002 masterpiece Songs For The Deaf, but Lullabies to Paralyze (“Medication”, “Little Sister”, an extended “Burn The Witch”) and Era Vulgaris (“Make It Wit Chu”, a 150% speed “Sick, Sick, Sick”) were both represented fairly well. Perhaps because its loose and hazy tone doesn’t gel perfectly with the tight and direct approach of the current live band, the band’s 2000 breakthrough Rated R was only represented by “Monsters In The Parasol”, but even if it wasn’t the most career-encompassing set of songs, the setlist played into the current lineup’s strengths, which made for a better overall show. (That being said, the omission of live staples “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “Better Living Through Chemistry” were missed.)
Running at twenty songs and nearly two hours, the band had expended nearly as much sweat as the audience members in the pit as they returned to the stage for the encore, but the set’s peak was still yet to come. The band’s closing tune, “A Song For The Dead”, may be somewhat ironic since the near-death experience Homme had on an operating table that inspired …Like Clockwork, but it’s still QOTSA’s finest moment live. Filled with even more false start and three guitars (and bass) ripping through its pulsating riff, the band played nine minutes past their curfew, clearly having too much fun to stop. (The band obviously doesn’t care about potential noise violation fees, as they would play twelve minutes past their curfew at Atlanta’s Music Midtown festival two days later.) In case it wasn’t already clear that he was glad to be back onstage, Homme thanked the audience between every song. The …Like Clockwork tour is QOTSA’s first extensive jaunt in two years (and six since the last tour featuring new material), and they sound revitalized and renewed. QOTSA might be even more excited to be back than their audience is, and even if they’re not playing the club circuit that they cut their teeth on, their live show is just as visceral of an experience in a larger setting. Festival organizers and mid-sized venue bookers, take note.