Review: Queens of the Stone Age demolish the Gibson Amphitheatre

Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

Some bands are better than others.

Chord by chord, line by line, beat by beat, hook by glorious hook, none is as convincing in 2013 as the Queens of the Stone Age. Even their codas kill.

The 6,000 heads moving in lockstep unison Saturday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre during “No One Knows” offered undeniable proof. With necks rubbery, noggins kept time with the Queens’ rolling thunder beat as if snipers were commanding it from above, chunka-chunka riffs pushing through the venue as the band carried its devoted base through a song about rules to follow, pills to swallow.

They traveled with Queens founder-singer-guitarist-desert dweller Josh Homme “through the desert of the mind with no hope,” drifted through the ocean, “dead lifeboats in the sun,” as the perfectly engineered band hummed. The group has been on the road for dozens of dates this summer, and holy boulders does it show. Pardon the language, but what a cussin’ rock band.

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The perfect one, as it happens, for the occasion. The Gibson is soon to be demolished, to be replaced by some Harry Potter thing. What better way to loosen the bolts than with a five-man wrecking crew, each seated upon his own sonic bulldozer plowing forward with a bead on destruction.


Killed by the Queens. Write that in the obituary. Pummeled by a band as tight as Walter White’s underwear, as frantic and addictive as his crystal meth. Touring in support of their sixth album, "... Like Clockwork,” the Queens offered nearly two hours of jams both hummable and head-bangable.

From the opening riffs, the Queens ruled. Homme and his band, which he’s built from scratch over the last decade, took to a sprint with a track from "... Like Clockwork,” “My God Is the Sun.” A song whose lyrics suggest not metal icons Ozzy or Lemmy but the poet Rumi, on “My God,” Homme carried the Gibson “far beyond the desert road, where everything ends up.”

Kneeling in the lyrical blazing heat while he and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen picked out a synchronized electric melody and drummer Jon Theodore banged his snare and sizzled his high hat, Homme described getting lost within the light: “Heal them, with fire from above,” he pleaded in worship, concluding that it’s “so good to be an ant who crawls atop a spinning rock.”

In that and other songs, the Queens mesmerized with what the ever-quotable Homme once described in recipe form as “a little bit of stupidity, a little bit of intelligence and sprinkle a little bit of sexuality on it, mix it and then drink it.” There were a lot of drunk rockers at the Gibson.

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On a structural level, the pure architecture of Homme’s music filled the amphitheater with impressive heft. One of the many highlights, a catchy version of “Long Slow Goodbye” from the band’s 2005 album “Lullabies to Paralyze,” traveled within a music construct that featured a basic A-A-B-A pattern as simple as an early (but distorted and heavy) Beatles ditty. But, halfway through, it spiraled into a brief, vertiginous diversion before returning to stability.

Over the years, I’ve seen the Queens a dozen times, including a memorably gritty gig in which they thrilled a sweaty club called Rock City in Nottingham, England. That gig occurred just as their “Songs for the Deaf” was kicking in the front doors that led them into the demolition party they threw on Saturday. Five hundred working-class yobs pogoing to “Go with the Flow” -- in the heart of Motörhead country, no less -- can’t be wrong.

Nor could the thousands jamming to the same song in the heart of Universal City years later. Through that journey, Homme and band have expanded both their fan base and their sound -- and pretty much mastered the art of the rock song. On Saturday, they illustrated their taste and melodic depth, their feel for rhythm and their ability to spin into ridiculous curlicue hooks and transfixing, never-dumb guitar solos.

The evidence was in one of the three encore songs: “I Appear Missing” from "... Like Clockwork.” A levitating mass as dense and imposing as a Richard Serra sculpture, on it Homme in perfect lyric described a soul lost within a coma, and the fans screamed every word to the devastating hook: “Shock me awake, tear me apart/Pinned like a note in a hospital gown/Prison of sleep deeper down/The rabbit hole never to be found.”

Heaviness takes many forms, and during this moment the people in the pit were no longer banging heads. Rather, they swayed, as if hypnotized and unbalanced by the musical wrecking balls hurtling toward them. Or maybe that was the Gibson’s foundations loosening a little.


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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit