Queens of the Stone Age Return at L.A. Benefit

qotsa-la-benefit.jpg
QOTSA's Josh Homme / Photo by Chapman Baehler
Chris Martins WRITTEN BY
Chris Martins

Metal heads, stoners, and hard rock aficionados turned out in droves for the intimate show at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night, a benefit for cancer-stricken Eagles of Death Metal bassist Brian O'Connor, which boasted the first Queens of the Stone Age gig in the U.S. since 2008.

Jesse Hughes, the mulleted and mustachioed frontman for Eagles of Death Metal, strutted the stage, wearing a gold cape over his a tuxedo T-shirt, sunglasses propped on top of his head, and worked the packed crowd -- reminding everyone of the night's purpose.

"We are gonna call upon the power and fury of rock and roll to heal our friend!" he declared with all the bravado of James Brown getting his funky preacher on. "Can you dig it?"

Ticket prices ranged from $50 to $250, with all proceeds going O'Connor's recovery via the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. Fans rallied for a good cause, and they were repaid in kind. Special guest half-sets from Last Shadow Puppets (the side project of Arctic Monkey Alex Turner) and frequent QOTSA contributor Alain Johannes fleshed out the middle, while a pair of surprises bookended the night.

O'Connor -- lovingly referred to as B.O.C. -- was supposed to be resting up following chemotherapy, but as QOTSA's Josh Homme would announce, he put off treatment so he could actually perform last night. Not to be outdone, Queens, in their first U.S. gig since 2008, had a cameo of their own: Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan, a frequent QOTSA collaborator, who took lead on vocals for the band's entire encore.

It was the kind of night you'd call "magical," if it wasn't so rip-roaring and unabashedly macho. EODM may have given the night its unofficial theme with the Peace, Love, Death Metal (2004) track, ""Whorehoppin'," whose chorus goes like this: "Shit, goddamn! / I'm a man, I'm a man!"

They played a full-bodied set of thrilling garage rock. EODM songs are hi-octane grinders that sound almost identical -- some shorter ("Bad Dream Mama"), some skronkier ("Heart On"), some sounding like the Stones ("Secret Plans"), some more like an amped-up Foreigner ("Anything 'Cept the Truth") -- but it's all in the execution. The band, rounded out by QOTSA drummer Joey Castillo and pal Dave Catching, was as furious as the New York Dolls in their prime.

As Hughes said shortly after running a miniature comb through his 'stache, "Amen, baby!"

When the Last Shadow Puppets arrived, the duo was dressed like the Beatles -- mop tops and skinny ties -- and sporting nothing more than an acoustic and an electric between them. But despite the minimal setup, their baroque pop tunes sounded as jam-packed, clever and catchy as ever.

Audience interest, however, was waning in anticipation of Queens, and even Johannes -- playing from his soon-to-be-released Dangerbird Records debut, Spark -- wasn't spared the rising tide of ambient chatter, nor the gasps of cigarette smoke intermittently pluming inward from the patio. Still, he too played loud, divining banjo-like cascades of notes from a cigar-box guitar and taking a break from his own material to deliver the soulful Desert Sessions aside, "Making a Cross."

And then, Queens happened. It's not hyperbole to say that the desert rock archetype, on stage, is one of the hardest working bands in the business. For all their sludge and skronk and stonerishness and strapping machismo, they're incredibly, unerringly precise. They'd have to be. Otherwise neither the hulking, off-kilter black anthems of 2007's Era Vulgaris nor the incredibly dense stuff of 2002 favorite Songs for the Deaf would sound right -- raw, mean, anything but lean.

The sweat-drenched five-piece killed it, again and again, working their way through the last four albums two songs at a time, Homme howling while Troy Van Leeuwen skulked back and forth between his ax, a mounted slide guitar and various keyboards. Castillo punished the drums. Dean Fertita (also of the Dead Weather) made his organ and keyboards sound like a revving engine. Michael Shuman shredded profusely, completing the trademark QOTSA wall of sound -- a pulsating thing that knows no tempo, but which always stays in time.

The drug devotional "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" inspired plenty to sing along with the chorus, a fused litany of intoxicants -- "nicotine-valium-vicodin-marijuana-ecstasy-alcohol" -- while the back-to-back pairing of "Go with the Flow" and "No One Knows" was greeted with near constant screaming. "Long Slow Goodbye," about QOTSA keyboardist Natasha Shneider who died from cancer in 2008, received the proper reverence, but so did everything else.

Best of all was the encore, as a sixth man joined the stage shrouded in darkness. The gruff-voiced shadow was Lanegan, of course, and he led Queens through their creepiest, heaviest songs, including "Hangin' Tree" and wrapping up with a thoroughly pummeling rendition of "A Song for the Dead."

The whole night, not a single tear nor word of regret was shed. If rock'n'roll actually does have the power to destroy or to heal, or whatever, cancer would have been lucky to leave that place with only a limp.

SETLISTS:

Eagles of Death Metal:
"I Only Want You"
"Don't Speak (I Came to Make a Bang)"
"Bad Dream Mama"
"Heart On"
"Cherry Cola"
"Now I'm a Fool"
"Secret Plans"
"English Girl"
"I Gotta Feeling (Just Nineteen)"
"Anything 'Cept the Truth"
"Whorehoppin' (Shit, Goddamn)"
"Speaking in Tongues"

Last Shadow Puppets:
"The Age of Understatement"
"My Mistakes Were Made for You"
"In My Room"
"The Chamber"
"Meeting Place"
"Standing Next to Me"

Alain Johannes:
"Endless Eyes"
"Return to You"
"Gentle Ghosts"
[unknown new song]
"Making a Cross" (The Desert Sessions)
"Make God Jealous"

Queens of the Stone Age:
"Misfit Love"
"Sick, Sick, Sick"
"Feel Good Hit of the Summer"
"The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret"
"Tangled Up in Plaid"
"Burn the Witch"
"Battery Acid"
"Make it wit Chu"
"Long Slow Goodbye" (with finale)
"Little Sister"
"Turnin' on the Screw"
"3's and 7's"
"Go with the Flow"
"No One Knows"
"I Think I Lost My Headache"

Encore with Mark Lanegan
"In the Fade"
"Hangin' Tree"
"God is on the Radio"
"A Song for the Dead"

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