Queens of the Stone Age – Agganis Arena, Boston, MA 12/13/13

There’s something in the sound of Queens of the Stone Age that doesn’t feel quite right and it’s awesome. While their riff-heavy brand of desert-bred stoner rock has found its place in the mainstream, there’s something “off” about their tunes. During their performance at Boston’s University Agganis Arena, Frontman Josh Homme and co. vamped through almost two hours of career-spanning nuggets that demonstrated how they’ve found their sound by creating traditional-yet-awkward sonic landscapes that forces the listener to take an audiological adventure.

A few songs into the set, the Queens performed, “My God is the Sun,” the lead-off single from their 2013 release, …Like Clockwork. On the surface, the song is structured traditionally with a few versus and choruses composed of rhythm guitar riffs with sharp leads layered over them. While this would lead readers to think the Queens music wouldn’t sound different from all the other guitar-led acts out there, this case is far from.

A few songs later, they queued up, “I Sat By The Ocean,” and it became clearer that what makes these leads unique is the off-notes they play. The relationship between their rhythm riffs and lead licks is a lot like watching a 3D movie without the glasses. The images are in synch, but they don’t mesh just right. Founder/vocalist/songwriter Josh Homme’s tunes, at their core, follow the traditions of conventional rock ‘n’ roll, but in addition, overlap them with a freaky, almost-awkward edge doesn’t allow the listener to sit easy with what they hear.

While Homme led the show, the glue that kept things together was drummer Jon Theodore. The original beat-keeper for the Mars Volta has been keeping a low profile over the past few years but seems to have found a home. Theodore’s time keeping track of all the bizarre time changes with Volta was a great way to prepare him to bridge the gap the listener hears between those parallel 3D images one sees without the glasses.

The group’s setlists don’t change too much on a night-to-night basis, but between songs, Homme engaged his audience in the kind of banter that lets a ticket holder knows they’re not just dialing it in. Homme told the audience that in the spirit of the American Revolution’s birth in Boston, the audience should break the venues rules and ignore the barriers segmenting the general admission floor. To walk the walk, he lit up a cigarette just because he wasn’t supposed to.

Die hard fans may have been disappointed that the setlist lacked any deep cuts or rarities, but more casual listeners got a Clockwork-heavy greatest hits set that laid lip service to all of their releases.  This was even true within the confines of their three-song encore. First up was, “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” off Clockwork, followed by their breakout anthem, “Feel Good Hit of the Summer.” Fans went nuts, chanting, “Nicotine, Valium Vicodin Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol.” Artists tend to dislike having their art labeled in one genre or another, but with lyrics like this, it’s hard to argue with the Stoner Rock label they’ve been branded with since the song appeared on their first album, Rated R, back in 2000.

If you saw Queens of the Stone Age earlier in the week in Chicago or the following night in New York, for the most part, you saw the same show three times on a row. True, they don’t offer the setlist eclecticism that makes it worth while to go to multiple shows on one tour, but the Queens showed Boston that when they come to your town, you’re going to get exactly what you paid for: uniquely crafted guitar-based rock that allows you to let go and rage, but requires you to really tune in and concentrate to get the most out of the experience.

Setlist

You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire
No One Knows
My God Is the Sun
Burn the Witch
Smooth Sailing
Monsters in the Parasol
I Sat by the Ocean
…Like Clockwork
I Never Came
If I Had a Tail
Kalopsia
Little Sister
Make It Wit Chu
Sick, Sick, Sick
Fairweather Friends
Better Living Through Chemistry
Go With the Flow
Encore:
The Vampyre of Time and Memory
Feel Good Hit of the Summer
A Song for the Dead

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