Verizon Wireless Theatre, Houston, Texas; Monday, September 17
To the disinterest of all but a handful of the Bush-voting locals,Messrs Homme and Turner team up for the gig of the century.
You join us deep in the heart of Texas, on a night when the stars – and we’re talking here about both the ones in the sky and the ones sat backstage at the Verizon – are about as big and as bright as they come. Tonight Queens Of The Stone Age, after giving regular tour supports Howlin’ Rain and Dax Riggs a few much needed days off, have drafted in Arctic Monkeys for a one-night-only, Anglo-American all-star love-in of epic proportions. Frankly, this is the sort of grand slam showdown that should command its own entry in the annals of rock history, a gig that every music lover in the Lonestar State will doubtless lay claim to having attended in years to come. Fact is, most of them will be lying. “We call this place ‘The Ghost Town’,” a sanguine Josh Homme tells NME over a pre-show Corona, “because there really is no-one here.”
It turns out that the Queens leader is not wrong. This 2,500 capacity theatre is – at best – half full when Alex Turner and co amble onstage at just gone eight o’clock in the evening and is showing little sign of getting any fuller. Given that just six weeks or so previously they were playing to some 60,000 word-perfect devotees over a weekend at Old Trafford, you might think the Monkeys would maybe not fancy a Monday night support slot in a city that does rock music in the same way that it does Democratic votes. You might, but you’d be sorely mistaken. For if the measure of a band’s genuine greatness is the ease with which they adapt to life outside of their comfort zone, then this one are a very great band indeed.
“We’re Arctic Monkeys, everyone. Hip hip hooray,” deadpans Alex, before blasting through a performance filled with the sort of precision and persuasive passion that would have seen them proclaimed pagan gods had they managed to reproduce it at Glasto. For the few people present aware of this – a small troupe of hardcore Anglophiles and, er, us – the fact that you can get close enough to the stage to see the whites of Matt Helders’ Hi-Tops only enhances the exhilaration. Plus, Arctic Monkeys seem to be enjoying the experience of not having their every last word bellowed back at them. “Is everyone having a good time?” asks Alex before a peerless ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’. Refusing to pander to his American audience in the slightest, he references long-gone Coronation Street character Curly Watts during ‘Balaclava’ and ’80s boxer Barry McGuigan before a remarkable rendition of ‘If You Were There, Beware’. It’s a tactic that pays off, as by the time they hit the home straight that is ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ and ‘A Certain Romance’, everyone in the building is cheering them on. Not least Josh Homme, who’s watching his guests from the side of the stage. “They’re tight little springy fuckers, alright,” he says, with a smile that borders on paternal pride.
By comparison, this evening Homme’s own band are tight in the way that a pair of crotch-hugging denims are. If the Monkeys rock, then Queens Of The Stone Age roll, the current incarnation playing with a looseness and swagger that suggests someone’s gonna get fucked up tonight. They’re the American muscle-mobile to the Monkeys’ streamlined sportscar with the likes of ‘Millionaire’ and newie ‘3’s & 7’s’ packing riffs that punch as hard as you imagine their hulking leader would himself.
These days, though, Josh is a responsible and – relatively speaking – clean-living parent, while his band have similarly progressed from their early phase as stoner stereotypes into a classic rock band in the grand American tradition. As such, the narcotic shopping list crowbarred into the chorus of ‘Feelgood Hit Of The Summer’ feels as though it belongs to a different era, with Josh tonight even replacing some of the lyrics with an ad-libbed homage to ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’. Essentially, Queens Of The Stone Age in 2007 are providing a more abrasive alternative to the super smooth stadium shtick of Foo Fighters, to the extent that recent single and storming set-closer ‘Sick, Sick, Sick’ is practically an R-rated rewrite of Grohl and co’s ‘All My Life’. It is that crucial deviance, however (well, that and maybe the fact that they aren’t fronted by an ex-member of Nirvana), that is ultimately the difference between Queens playing packed sports grounds and half-full theatres.
And while this show feels like a mere stop-off for the Monkeys, a minor detour on their roadmap to world domination, you somehow get the impression that Queens Of The Stone Age will be playing shows like this for the rest of their lives. Seeing them stomp, sweat and smile their way through an exhilarating encore of ‘No One Knows’, though, you also sense that this suits Josh and his cohorts just fine. Really, Houston’s stay-at-homes don’t know what they’re missing.