At the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday, August 4
Recreational cannabis industry marketing budgets are getting larger and more adventurous. In a buzz-building “for the fans” move, Canadian medicinal cannabis company Aurora blasted social media with a free Queens of the Stone Age gig in Vancouver as part of the Aurora Illumination Series. Those lucky enough to receive a free e-ticket witnessed QOTSA at the Commodore Ballroom, an intimate venue compared with the grandiosity of the band’s recent arena tours.
Upon entering, audience members were given LED wristbands, a clever but also annoying visual touch reminding everyone of the branded nature of the show. Regardless, with Eagles of Death Metal also on the bill, the crowd was elated about seeing two of the world’s best current rock n’ roll acts, and the energy in the room was undeniable.
With Jesse Hughes and his Eagles of Death Metal taking the stage first, there was no easing gently into the night. At one point Hughes proclaimed, “I’m so wasted I can’t even write my name on a piece of paper.”
The evidently intoxicated frontman was sloppy, almost tripping over his pedals and slurring his speech during most of the between-song banter, as well as during an elongated profession of love to the crowd, Canada, and Josh Homme in particular.
It almost felt as though Hughes is desperate to regain whatever credibility he lost in the aftermath of the 2015 Bataclan massacre in Paris.
You might recall EODM coming out as victims immediately after 89 people were killed in a coordinated terrorist attack on the hall. And how Hughes then used the aftermath of the tragedy to rant on about everything from the idiocy of French gun laws, to liberal idiocy, to the evils of Islam. He’s a bit of an asshole, but judging by the audience reaction Saturday night, forgiveness comes pretty cheap these days.
EODM were super tight, with bassist Jennie Vee living up to the sign hanging on her amp that said “Keep it wild.” Highlights of the set included a cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”, as well as the infamous “I Love You All the Time”, one of their songs that has been covered by multiple artists in the wake of the Bataclan attacks.
The band played loud and hard, and received a decent amount of applause as it walked off.
QOTSA took the stage with one of their most evil cuts, “A Song for the Deaf”, instantly setting the tone for the evening. Hearing the song’s spiralling, distorted guitars through the massive Commodore sound system was something to marvel at. Each musician’s part was crystal clear and over the top in terms of tone and volume. These guys know how to mix their sound live.
The show was filled with dual and sometimes triple guitar parts between Homme, fellow guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, and multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, all working to psychedelic effect.
Percussionist Jon Theodore (the Mars Volta, Royal Trux) gave a drum clinic, which was to be expected given his resume, and didn’t miss a beat the entire night. Bassist Michael Shuman managed to stay in sync with Theodore while flailing around the stage manically, as well as delivering the loudest screams of the evening.
The lighting was minimal but effective nonetheless. With swirling blues and reds you got the sense of being in the eye of a storm at some moments, and the strobes kicked in at just the right times to increase the intensity.
During “Turnin' on the Screw” from 2007’s Era Vulgaris, the lights pulsed perfectly with the backbeat, which was also a treat. Kudos to the lighting crew, as the visuals were dialled in for the night.
Queens of the Stone Age played some of its biggest singles, including “No One Knows”, “Little Sister”, “My God Is the Sun”, “The Way You Used to Do”, and “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”, the last of which sounded absolutely glorious. Guitars ripped through the choruses like chainsaws, with Homme’s vocals swirling above in his trademark falsetto. Much of the set was also peppered with tracks from the group’s latest offering, 2017’s Villains.
QOTSA also played a few songs less frequently found in its live sets, such as “Hangin' Tree” from the 2002 stoner-rock epiphany Songs for the Deaf. Though it would have been a wet dream to see Homme’s buddy and sometimes collaborator Mark Lanegan show up to sing a few songs in the set, Homme handled all the material well and held a good lower register for the parts that needed it.
Other less-played favourites like “Do It Again”, “Misfit Love”, and “In the Fade” made the evening feel a bit more intimate for hard-core fans. At one point Homme addressed the sweat-glistened mosh pit, asking them to take care of each other, and noting that “Ladies don’t want some dude’s shoe in their face,” possibly alluding to the female photographer he kicked in the face last year.
Returning for a one-song encore, the California rockers belted out a blistering version of “A Song for the Dead”. It felt massive, with Van Leeuwen almost bowing his guitar while thrashing his body back to the massive drum hits Theodore was unleashing. Theodore would have made Dave Grohl proud, as he seems to have mastered Grohl's intricate drum parts of this fan favourite and then some, adding his own flair. The band gave it everything it had.
The finale was indeed spectacular, with smoke machines, feedback, and strobe lights accenting what was an epic concert. With his cigarette already lit, waving goodbye and blowing kisses at the audience, it was clear Homme and the band had a great time playing a small show for the fans. It’s also pretty clear that the bigger players in the Canadian marijuana industry have pretty deep pockets, a win-win for music fans and investors alike.More