Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
It’s hard to recall a cool breeze on an early September evening in Philly, during that limbo time of the year, post-Labor-Day and pre-Equinox, where devout fans of the Endless Summer dig in with resentment, resist the cold, and get rewarded most often up here by an Indian Summer’s reprise of temperatures and humidity that tend to verge on unseasonable.
Not these days though. Not last night, standing outside, watching Queens Of The Stone Age, where you needed maybe one more overpriced domestic brew to counter the chilly breeze blowing off the Delaware, and to maybe mellow you a little too to the ocean of inebriated bros flying their devil horn fists (Gene-Simmons-patent pending).
Queens are at their best when they’re able to channel punk petulance and sneering sarcasm, as quintessential-rockstar frontman Josh Homme punctuates his soaring goth-crooner and trademark falsetto vocals with his own unique take on Elvis’ curled upper lip. At their worst, they create an ugly, impossible ouroboros out of their own self-aware genre subversion, as overwrought layers of distortion, “accessible” hooks and the addition of saccharine synths steer them into that special Muse- or Imagine-Dragons-brand of over-engineered radio-rock garbage.
The Mojave-baked rockers played eighteen songs and an encore last night, the majority of which felt like an excuse to offer a near-full edition of their barely-two-weeks-old Mark-Ronson-produced Villains. The adjective posed most often in reviews of Villains is “accessible,” which counts at times as critic-code for unsophisticated, uninteresting, even derivative — music that trades on the tried and the true and rephrases retired rock riffs. Cue song #12 of the evening, new album title track “Villains Of Circumstance,” with an opening slide guitar riff that only makes you wanna hear either “Walk On The Wild Side” or “Can I Kick It” instead.
Homme stood coiffed and cocksure on the center edge of Festival Pier’s stage after a manic rendition of their breakthrough 2002 hit “No One Knows,” seven songs deep by then into their set. “These are the nights to remember forever, I swear to god, man,” proclaimed the singer. “We’ve all been through a lot, this band’s been through a lot, and it’s all for nights like this. Thank you very much, is all I have to say.” His stage banter throughout was terse, but direct, engaging. Tacit allusions to having overcome significant personal loss and serious health scares made the short show of gratitude feel earnest. Genuine.
It’s arguably that authenticity that carries the band through all of their endeavors. It’s enough to garner collaborative ovations from the likes of Iggy Pop, Dave Grohl and Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones, and steady contributions from Mark Lanegan, enough to keep the momentum going for themselves through lineup iterations and forays into synth and disco, and to keep you from wondering too hard or too long what Southern-Cali pop-punk stoner-metal would ever have to do with a guy like Mark Ronson. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER