You can feel an edge of excitement in NYC when there’s an imminent rock concert at Madison Square Garden, but Queens of the Stone Age had taken things further – a full day before the show, no less. Deep underground, three sets of free tickets were hidden on the Q subway line, complete with MTA service-change signs showing the band’s crackled Q in place of the formal one. The commotion triggered by the surprise was heightened by a slick line of custom merchandise for their NYC tour stop – including an incredible poster by Emek Studios, the holographic prints of which were “long gone” by 5:30pm – that had hardcore fans lining up in the early afternoon. Impressively, there was also a sizable herd snapping up Royal Blood merch and arriving in tees from the UK band’s previous shows – one of many signs that these openers probably won’t be openers for much longer.
Living up to the hype and far exceeding it, Royal Blood delivered a set that was insanely good and a true rush of blood to the head. If you didn’t know them, it might seem crazy that they were playing a venue as small as Warsaw the last time they were in New York – and the leap to one of the world’s biggest arenas was not lost on the hardworking rock duo. “What we’re experiencing right now is very fucking surreal,” commented frontman and bassist Mike Kerr, after they’d torn up the big stage for a few songs, and proved why they’ve earned a place on it. “We’re so grateful to be here and are just trying not to fuck it up,” he laughed. “Thank you so much for having us.” As they pounded out addictive hits like “Lights Out,” “I Only Lie When I Love You,” and “Figure It Out,” you could physically feel the impacts from Ben Thatcher, whose rapid-fire beats and explosive drum breaks tangled beautifully with Kerr’s sinister bass lines. As always, he was all over the stage, even climbing up onto Thatcher’s platform and picking up a stick to beat the drums along with him. “You fucking rock. You rock! Let’s go!” Kerr shouted at the affectionate audience, who embraced their one-of-a-kind sound as if they’d traveled from far away just to get a taste of it.
Royal Blood were such a force, it was almost unnerving to deal with the silence after their set – but luckily, it wasn’t a long wait for the much-anticipated headliners. Taking the stage at 9:19pm, Queens of the Stone Age – made up of Josh Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen, Michael Shuman, Dean Fertita, and Jon Theodore – quickly threw the audience into a hard-dancing fit with “If I Had a Tail,” Homme bringing his vigorous riffs and clear, tough vocals right to the forefront. While last night’s setlist saw no changes from their recent tour stops, it’s easy to see why they like sticking with it. It’s a great mix of fresh material from their new album, Villains, and crowd-pleasers that span their discography, pulling mostly from 2013’s …Like Clockwork and 2002’s Songs For The Deaf. Even so, ensuring their New York show would be a memorable one, they seemed to strike a tight synergy together, filling every corner of the venue with their untarnished, volatile rock. Revved up by the awesome acoustic percussion that signaled the start of “My God is the Sun,” fans at the front of GA were already crowd-surfing, their dark silhouetted feet kicking into the smoke-filled air above them.
“Well, hello everybody, how are you?” Homme said just afterward, sounding almost nonchalant as he addressed the audience for the first time – all while their screams nearly drowned out his greeting. Digging into hits like “No One Knows” and “I Sat By the Ocean” early on, the seasoned rockers were on fire, leaving no doubts as to why they were born to play huge shows at high volumes. In the chaos of fast strobes, smoke machines, and saturated lights, QOTSA were rock solid and dominant, almost daring the effects to overshadow their all-encompassing sound (an impossible feat). And though the fans up front could hardly resist the urge to mosh around, Homme wouldn’t stand for violence, and even stopped the music at one point to break up a fight in the crowd. “If you want to fight, stick your head up your ass and fight for air, or get the fuck out,” he said matter-of-factly, garnering loud cheers in response. Shortly after, he summed up the whole night with a quote that was so rock-and-roll, it will surely live on as part of the Garden’s hallowed history. “We’re not the soundtrack to you fighting. We’re the soundtrack to you fucking. If you don’t like that, get the fuck out.”
Photos: Shayne Hanley
Article: Olivia Isenhart