One’s a burly rock wrecking crew whose dark sleaze has influenced a generation of new bands, the other are sugar-rush power-pop specialists still making their mark – but which of Reading’s two “co-headliners” came out on top on Friday? Paramore and Queens of the Stone Age shared bill-topping duties in Berkshire (August 22) in a move that provoked debate among fans at first but ended up making for a varied, spectacular double act. Was there a winner? Here’s a head-to-head breakdown of their sets…
Scores to settle
“To those of you who have no idea who we are… you’re about to,” warned Williams as Paramore’s night cranked into gear on the Main Stage. There’s a siege mentality that fizz throughout the Tennessee group’s hour-plus set tonight, with their tireless front woman a constant energetic whirlwind of hip shakes and hand claps beneath her turquoise mane of hair. There were far more eyebrows raised at Paramore’s promotion to bill-topper status than at Queens of the Stone Age when the announcement came earlier this year, despite similarities in record sales and previous Reading appearances: since their inception in 1996, Queens have played here on the Reading Main Stage four times before this evening, compared to Paramore’s three turns here. The band spoke to NME earlier this week about being “out to prove a point” with their performance. The massive endorphin high of tracks like opener ‘Still Into You’ and the brilliant ‘Misery Business’, tonight teased into a sprawling 6 minute epic complete with assistance from the crowd, do precisely that. Homme’s group later, though typically high octane, deliver their knuckleduster riffs with a more surgical precision that doesn’t quite have the same hallmark of a band on a mission.
Bringing the entertainment
Josh Homme is a no-frills sort of guy – not the sort you can imagine pouring over live festival clips of the Darkness and Kiss, drinking in their prop and pyrotechnic theatrics. In interviews, his conversation’s usually lean and direct. On record, his songs are bruising nihilist-rock joy rides that rarely meander. So you’d be forgiven for not expecting much in the way of spectacle from Queens of the Stone Age tonight. You’d be wrong though – from the minute they slink on stage, ripping into ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire’ from their 2002 album ‘Songs For The Deaf’, the stage is a kaleidoscopic visage of red and green lasers and bright spinning lights like a nightclub scene from the Matrix. The thrills are musical, too – songs are reworked into spindly jams, with ‘A Song For The Dead’ stretched by manic drum solos and teasing pauses into an exhausting epic, making Paramore’s disco balls and LEDs feel a bit pedestrian. At least Homme’s stage banter remains as brutally deadpan as ever – signing off after ‘A Song For The Dead’, he tells the crowd: “I’m saying goodbye and fucking goodnight. Have a great weekend. We hope you get shit faced and end up fucking sleeping in a ditch.”
Winner: Queens of the Stone Age
Winning over the crowd
It’s a telling sign of the intense adoration fans hold for Paramore that a 20 minute gap in the set, after the Main Stage’s speakers blow, plunging the band into silence, doesn’t see more wander to other tents. “We’re just going to pretend this never happened,” Williams whispered to the crowd when power was restored to one microphone, laughing off the technical issues by miming a melodramatic strop to the crowd and instigating a Mexican wave. Strangely, the whole fracas ended up being perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Paramore’s set – a memorable acapella singalong of ‘Only Exception’ ensues instead that brings chills. They’re a group that for all their punk guitars have the unmistakeable sheen of a pop act – looking like a steampunk Cyndi Lauper in her metallic crop top and green hair, Williams’ every dance step feels choreographed – and it’s refreshing to see the band deal with a little chaos. They shrug it off with aplomb. Queens meanwhile also know exactly how to give the crowd what they want – in their case, namely, a steady stream of pulverising guitar anthems that peaks with a rendition of ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’ it probably set off car alarms in Yemen.
Winner: it’s a tie…