Photos by Tim Bugbee
Arena rock is a dying artform. This is, of course, news to no one. It’s a subject that’s revisited at least once a year, typically upon the announcement of the incoming class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees when music scribes bruise their lungs bemoaning the lack of modern big-room talent, the next class.
And who can blame them? There’s empirical sexual undertones tied to seeing a band’s name etched in the bright lights outside of Madison Square Garden, as ingrained in rock lore as groupies and cocaine. From Zeppelin to Floyd to Van Halen, it’s a rite of passage that’s been fetishized throughout generations and has seemingly run its course with the graying of the GNRs and RHCPs of yesterday’s generation.
And sure, we still have acts like Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire, capable of filling a stadium with the ease of a single Ticketmaster e-mail blast. But there’s something unsettling about anointing them next. These aren’t acts universally lusted over by purists. Just because you have people in your band playing the guitar doesn’t make you AC/DC.
All of which makes Queens of the Stone Age feel like a bit of an anomaly. While most holdovers from the alternative rock radio era seem comfortable occupying their niche, forcing their fans into theaters for anniversary celebrations of albums old enough to buy cigarettes, QOTSA are clearly striving for something greater. How else can you explain …Like Clockwork? The most recent effort from the Southern California collective is cock rock at its most magnificent and menacing. (The latter of which is the real hook for the aforementioned purists. This is, after all, the labor of a man who pals around with John Paul Jones and has no reservation telling Jay Z to fuck off.)
Friday evening’s Agganis Arena gig expertly channeled this soaring grandiosity while remaining grounded in their stomping roots.
Some of the splashier new material (“My God Is The Sun,” “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”) played delectably when paired with shitkicking older staples (the former between “No One Knows” and “Burn The Witch”; while “Vampyre” sparked a virulent encore that wrapped with the one-two blow of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “A Song for the Dead”).
But it was Josh Homme’s ability to lather the room into a pit of venomous spit that won the night. “Fuck the rules, do whatever you want, and play me a song about LSD,” were the frontman’s orders just prior to launching into “Monsters in the Parasol.” Comparable instances of punk-indebted arrogance included lighting a number of cigarettes and cat calling a young lady walking down the aisle to her seat. Needless to say, the only person in the room he didn’t have eating out the palm of his dirt-encrusted hand was the girl’s date.