“I could fucking die here,” said Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme of his band’s first headlining show at Madison Square Garden before adding with a nervous laugh, “I don’t want to die here — you know what I mean… We’re here to dance!”
That sort of unfiltered stream of consciousness by the hip-swiveling frontman, who has referred to himself as an “idiosyncratic greaser,” peppered the night at the famed New York arena on Tuesday. Homme often interacted with — and sometimes got distracted by — the fans: “Don’t be a dick,” he told one guy in the audience who was apparently picking fights in the general admission pit before asking security to escort the man away from the stage. “My dad always said, you can’t fly with eagles if you hang with turkeys.”
Beyond the amusing off-the-cuff banter, the 6 feet 4 inches, redheaded Homme evokes a hard-rockin’ Elvis Presley when he wiggles his hips and twists his leg as his guitar swings back and forth. But while he moves like Presley (and cracks jokes like a ruggedly handsome Conan O’Brien), his vocals often emulate David Bowie.
As the only original member of the band, which has seen numerous guest musicians like Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor and Mark Lanegan filter through, Homme has eagerly allowed QOTSA’s sound to morph over the 20 years since the band’s self-titled debut was released. Always solidly grounded in hard rock, he has incorporated elements of dance, blues and rockabilly into their music. And their recently released album Villains is no different: Co-produced with hit-maker Mark Ronson, of “Uptown Funk!” fame, songs like “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “Domesticated Animals” have a pop-leaning, Bowie-esque bent.
The band is currently a five-piece, but Homme and his distorted guitar riffs are clearly the main attraction. (Though all the members cohesively rocked red and black clothing and instruments at the MSG show, a detail that went right down to the bright red bandana peaking out of the back pocket of the singer’s all-black outfit.) “Where’s that drink? I need it back,” he quipped after he handed his cup to someone in the audience and then proceeded to forget the lyrics to “Make It Wit Chu.”
During the two-hour, 20-song set, Homme and Co. played six songs off the new LP (including current Mainstream Rock hit “The Way You Used to Do”) and five from their previous album, 2013’s Billboard 200-crowning …Like Clockwork — and there still was plenty of room for older hits such as “No One Knows,” “Go With the Flow” and “Little Sister” alongside such fan favorites as “Sick, Sick, Sick” and “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire.”
At the end of the show, Queens of the Stone Age spotted supporting act Royal Blood crowd-surfing and called them up onstage to take a second bow — and the English rock duo rightly deserved the extra attention. Their 50-minute set impressively filled the arena with aggressive rock stemming from just two members: vocalist/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher. Yup, their unique brand of rock is made up of simple drum and bass, with Kerr often wielding his instrument as if it were a lead guitar, including several impressive solo riffs that made you do a double-take. (To be fair, he did mix it up a bit on a couple songs with an actual guitar and a keyboard.) Stand out tracks included “Figure It Out” and “I Only Lie When I Love You,” which rocked the house despite a false-start.
Despite being a two-piece and having just two albums under their belt (including the recently released How Did We Get So Dark), the pair used the arena-size stage well and played a tight, consistent set. And like Queens of the Stone Age, they had a sense of humor to boot: “Enjoy 50 minutes of us trying not to fuck up,” said Kerr before cheekily introducing “the rest of the band” by sharing a shot with the drummer.