All ten photos are taken by Dustin Halter for Alternative Nation, and are mixed in throughout the article.
In the midst of the country dealing with the fallout of Hurricane Harvey and now Irma, Queens of the Stone Age stormed into Philadelphia Thursday night for the second show of their Villains tour with Royal Blood opening. Riding high of the success of their latest album, Villains, which debuted at number three on the Billboard Top 200, Queens attacked the stage with a mix of ferocity and precision, proving once again why they are rock’s go-to band.
In typical Queens fashion, frontman Josh Homme led the band through a raucous setlist that included some hits, a few deep cuts and a healthy serving of tracks from their latest album. While Queens have consistently served up solid albums over the past two decades, they are a band at their absolute peak in a live setting.
The Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing provided the perfect backdrop for the band to dominate. An outdoor venue, the air may have been cool, but the band was on fire. The antsy crowd ebbed and flowed in unison through opening band Royal Blood’s set while waiting in anticipation for Queens. When they finally took the stage at quarter after nine, the ovation was thunderous.
Without wasting a second, the band got on stage and burst right into “My God is the Sun,” from 2013’s …Like Clockwork. It wasn’t the only song of the night that played host to the triple-guitar attack of Homme, longtime guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, but on this song, it worked to absolute perfection. Fertita has been with Queens for ten years and also serves as a right-hand man of sorts to Jack White. He was a real standout throughout the set. Shifting seemingly effortlessly from guitar to keyboards and piano and synths, Fertita is the definition of a utility player. His virtuosic musical ability of full display from song to song throughout the set.
Fertita however was not the only standout throughout. Bassist Michael Shuman had more than a couple opportunities to shine with his walking, fuzz-soaked bass lines. On cuts “No One Knows,” “Head Like a Haunted House” and “Little Sister” to name a few, his bass playing stole the show. Anchoring the songs but jumping out into the front of the mix demanding the audience’s attention.
Queens of the Stone Age have seen many members come and go throughout their history. What is unbelievably astonishing is their ability to not only recreate their older material live with some new members, but to have it elevated in such a way that the songs continually feel fresh and exciting while remaining familiar and comforting. Drummer Jon Theodore has no easy task of replicating the work of Dave Grohl and Joey Castillo. Yet he is ore than able to recreate their contributions. And with relative ease he breathes new life into them. The band crashed to halt during “No One Knows” to allow for Theordore to absolutely punish his drums through a two-minute drum solo, before the band came crashing back in.
Through nineteen songs, what became immensely apparent is that Queens are masters of the live form. They don’t play the same setlist night. They are confident in their ability and their back catalog that they can mix things up, keep them fresh and audiences will leave happy. Seven of the nine tracks that appear on Villains were performed tonight. And they were received with as much enthusiasm as classic Queens songs “Sick, Sick, Sick” and “Smooth Sailing”; in some cases with more. Additionally, the lush production and thick atmospheric landscape that encapsulates much of Villains translated live better than it should. Again, a lot of that I believe has to do with Fertita’s mastery of his multiple roles and Shuman’s fantastic ability as a backup singer. Complementing Homme’s on-point falsetto while providing a little extra gusto for good measure.
Queens also have debut quite the impressive light show on this tour. Piercing, fluorescent lights show across the night sky to an almost blinding degree. Pulsating in rhythm and syncopation with the bass drum and accents at some points, flurrying in a manic order at others. At one point, numerous people in the sold-out audience resorted to putting their sunglasses back on. Despite it being night to be able to withstand the visual assault. During the back-to-back painstakingly strong performances of the melancholy “I Appear Missing” and “Villains of Circumstance,” the mesmerizing lights were enough to almost send you into an epileptic episode.
The band closed out their set with one of their best known songs, “Go With the Flow” from 2002’s Songs For the Deaf. Homme told the crowd, “yesterday is yesterday and five minutes from now will be five minutes from now. Be in the now,” before jumping into the song to a deafening crowd applause. The band said their good nights and thank you’s before retreating backstage. Within five minutes they returned for their encore, a super tight, super-fast, super manic rendition of Song For The Dead. Another moment for Theodore to prove his prowess and complete mastery of the drums. The band played the song at least fifty bpm than the recorded version, leaving the crowd studded, satisfied and in awe.
Each member of the band was on full display. Each contributing to the fun, laid back feel of Queens. At one point Homme asked for the house lights to come up so that he could point out a young fan in the audience who was holding a sign. The sign to the crowd, “My Name is Zeppelin. I skipped the first day of school to see Royal Blood and Queens of the Stone Age.” To which Homme quipped, “The funny thing kid is, this is fucking school.” And it’s true. Queens gave everyone in the audience an education in how in today’s day age, in a music world drowning in rap, country and a severe lack of interest in rock and alternative music, that there are still rock and roll heroes. Even if Queens of the Stone Age would prefer to be called Villains.