Photo by Andy Downing
Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme sounded like an exonerated death row inmate grateful for a second chance when he paused to address the audience in the midst of the band’s 90-plus minute set at a crowded LC Pavilion on Sunday. “It’s a good time to be alive,” he said, flashing a broad, childish grin.
At one time there was an air of invincibility surrounding both Homme and Queens. When the singer name-checked a litany of illicit drugs on 2000’s “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” (“Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol…”), for example, it appeared he was simply listing the various chemicals that could never hope to put him in the ground.
In the years since, however, fissures have started to show in this once unbreakable façade. Longtime bassist Nick Oliveri was fired from the band in 2004 in the wake of a felony domestic violence charge — a departure that coincided with a stretch of albums where the once-mighty crew sounded weary and adrift (Lullabies to Paralyze in 2005 and especially Era Vulgaris in 2007). Then, in 2010, Homme died. Well, briefly anyway, as he tells it.
“I had surgery on my leg and there were complications,” he told the British music magazine NME, “And I died on the [operating] table.”
Considering these circumstances, it shouldn’t surprise that mortality emerged as a focal point of the group’s long-in-the-works comeback album …Like Clockwork, surfacing everywhere from the cover art (an artist’s depiction of a woman wrapped in the Grim Reaper’s embrace) to Homme’s words.
It remained one here in concert.
“I survived, I speak, I breath,” the singer moaned on “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” a ghostly ballad he delivered while seated at a piano. “I'm alive, hooray.” Then on a monstrous “I Appear Missing,” which ping-ponged between choppy guitar passages and comparatively melodic interludes for more than eight glorious minutes, Homme appeared to address the incident even more directly, referencing hospital gowns, the gradual slide into darkness and his surprise at being shocked back into existence.
Even older songs took on new dimensions in light of these events. A reimagined “In the Fade,” for one, sounded both slower and weirder here, with Homme’s admission “you live til you die” coming on less like a battle cry than a simple admission of fact.
Of course, the frontman’s new appreciation for life hasn’t dulled his more animalistic urges, which rose to the fore on the hedonistic bump and grind of “If I Had a Tail.” “I wanna suck, I wanna lick,” he crooned, showing off a sandy falsetto. “I wanna grind, I wanna spit.”
Homme’s bandmates sounded equally reinvigorated, stampeding through a vaguely psychedelic “My God Is the Sun” and unleashing an array of slash-and-burn riffs on “The Sky Is Fallin’” that suggested the musicians themselves were the ones planning to tear it down. The players packed the songs with all sorts of interesting textures and welcome sonic flourishes: the single droning keyboard note on “Tangled up in Plaid” suggestive of Chinese water torture, the distorted, cranky riff introducing a feral “Sick Sick Sick,” the hip-shaking bassline that added a cocksure swagger to “I Sat By the Ocean.”
It was a thrilling display, and further proof that resurrection can, at times, be a source of divine inspiration.