Photos by Neil Van.
Hard rock comes in so many varieties, there is just about something for anyone if you want loud guitar riffs and pulsing drum beats. You can head bang, scream, mosh, do a killer air guitar solo and in the case of some kinds of hard rock you can dance. In a dream pairing Queens of the Stone Age are on tour with Royal Blood, two bands that play loud and hard while also being able to make you dance.
British imports Royal Blood celebrated the release of their second album, How Did We Get So Dark?, this spring and even did a secret show at Velvet Underground to celebrate its release. Having previously seen them before in a festival setting I was excited to see them with a crowd of like-minded people. Much like Canada’s favourite hard rocking duo Death From Above, Royal Blood is a two-piece that features a bassist and a drummer, no guitars here. The band started out with a pair of new tracks in a set that was perfectly split between songs from their first and second records. Singer Mike Kerr who played in front of a wall of amps gleefully exclaimed that they “were from Brighton and it’s great to be here”. When playing their hit Come on Over Kerr finished the final riff playing his bass one handed as he punched the fret board with his fingers. Kerr showed off his sarcastic wit when he stated he wanted to introduce the crowd to the rest of the band, only needing to name drummer Ben Thatcher. Kerr also had the fine joke that only works if you read it with a British accent “Some say tomato, some say tomato but I say Toronto”. The duo finished with their biggest song Out of the Black. The shirtless guy with hair that went all the way down his back helicoptered like there was no tomorrow (sadly for him security decided to throw out this guy, who not only wasn’t hurting anyone, I don’t think he was even drunk).
Seven albums in an almost twenty year span, Queens of the Stone Age are basically the elder statesman of what is usually a young man’s genre. For the opening track the legendary desert rockers played Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, the first song off of their newest album Villains. There was a giant beach ball going around and front man Josh Homme asked for it to be tossed up on stage for him. With one swift move he deflates it and deadpans to the crowd that he “didn’t come to watch us play with our balls”, a move that elicited cheers. As the lights turned onto the audience, Homme claimed just how “fucking incredible Toronto was”. At one point he claimed that this was one of the biggest North American shows the band had ever played, which is odd since earlier this summer they headlined Rock Fest in Montreal and have played the Air Canada Centre on numerous occasions.
No One Knows, the song that first got me into the band way back in grade nine, appeared in the set surprisingly early at only seven songs in, which wasn’t even the halfway point of the show. Regardless, hearing that familiar pulsing bass line was something I had waited years to hear live. QOTSA occupy a weird area in the music landscape. No one denies their greatness or influence on modern hard rock but they haven’t quite ascended to the upper echelon of festival headliners. Much like bands that started in a similar era like Tool and Radiohead, Queens only has a few moderate radio hits but the other two acts are considered holy grails of festival bookings. Looking through the bands set lists you can’t help but see how many well known songs they have had throughout the years, with not bad albums along the way, making them curiously absent from the discussion of the biggest rock bands still touring.
Rock music has always had an on again off again relationship with making songs sound sexy, but on the ridiculously sexy Make It Wit Chu the crowd of metal heads gyrated and sang along as Homme slowly puffed on a cigarette knowing exactly what he was doing to the crowd. A fan near the front had taken a Canadian flag and drew the album artwork for Villains on it, when Homme noticed he excitedly grabbed it from the fan and draped it over one of the amps where it proudly sat for the rest of the show.
Looking at set lists for the band, at first you think you can sort of predict what songs will be played but then you realize that Homme isn’t like other rock stars, as he switches things up every night. The band debuted two new songs, Avon and The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret and the previous two shows also debuted two other new songs along with bringing back some other old tracks that seldomly get played.
Everyone seemed to be in a pure euphoric bliss by the time The Way You Used to Do, the lead single from Villains was played, before the band ramped things up even further by playing two of their biggest hits Little Sister and Go With the Flow to end the main set. The band so easily fuses blues with alternative rock and metal you’d think they invented the damn genres. For the encore the band busted out two trusted back catalogue songs from 2002’s Songs For the Deaf to end a raucous and debaucherous night.