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Thursday 29 June 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Queens Of The Stone Age (Live Review By Alex Swift)

Queens Of The Stone Age, Cardiff Castle, 23.06.23

Ahead of their already widely celebrated set at Glastonbury, and following the release of new album, In Times New Roman, which carries over the retro throwback of Villains, while featuring the experimentation of albums in the vein of ...Like Clockwork, Queens Of The Stone Age perform to a packed-out Cardiff Castle. Indeed, as frontman Josh Homme points out on stage, not only is this a huge show for Cardiff but it’s their first time in the Welsh Capital since 2002, when they headlined The Great Hall on the Rated R tour! As you’d expect, this concert sold out in an instant, adding to my terrible luck in getting tickets on day of release, while my presence here reinforces my confidence in my ability to get into gigs at the absolute last minute.

“You jammy git!” a friend of mine exclaims when I later tell him the story of how I got in, through befriending a couple standing outside the castle with a sign begging to buy spare tickets, and the incredible kindness of a stranger who gives us all three of their spares without charge. You can put that down to luck and undoubtedly that plays a huge part. Still, with this being the fourth time that has happened to me this year, perseverance tends to go a long way. That’s something the desert rock maestros formed from the ashes of Kyuss are more than aware of, appearing tonight like aged yet skilled masters of their craft, our frontman’s brilliant grey beard adding to that impression.

Before them though, Coach Party are given the job of warming the crowd up. Their anthemic style of power pop proves the perfect accompaniment to the warm evening air, and the sense of excitement present in the crowd as punters shuffle in through the north and south entrances to the medieval fortress. “We’re touring the UK this year, and sadly we’re not coming to Cardiff” they declare at one point provoking pantomime-esque noises of disappointment form the audience, many of whom have been won over on the band’s songwriting, even upon initial impressions. “I don’t think we’re famous enough yet” they add, provoking the notion that someone should definitely tell them about our city’s wonderful small music venues. Irrespective of that though, their forty-minute set is more than enough to satisfy. Hopefully the crowds craving to hear more from the group, will hang on until they eventually decide to make their way back to Wales.

Coming on to a recording of Smile by Peggy Lee and launching straight into Go With The Flow, Queens Of The Stone Age are excellent tonight. Of course, there are the songs which everyone knows like the grove-laden Little Sister and the iconic No One Knows which are incredibly satisfying to hear in a live environment. However, far from just sticking to the songs people know and love, the band play a number of fan favourites tonight as moments like the lovably strange Sick, Sick, Sick and the swaggering Smooth Sailing, both of which engulf the front rows in movement, send a chain-reaction of dancing throughout the crowd. 

Even the new songs, while not causing the same scale of audience participation, give the band a chance to demonstrate their technical versatility, wowing attentive listeners as the sound mixing, it has to be said, is incredibly crip and detailed. Strangely, The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret is omitted from tonight’s setlist, probably because on previous nights of the tour, the bands sound was cut off due to the set running too long. I can’t complain too much however, as I did hear the hit from outside the castle, during sound-check.

Josh Homme meanwhile has seemed to embrace the maturity that has come with age, not saying much at all but seeming utterly bowled over by the venue, and the reaction his band gets. “I just want to Make it Wit Chu, ya know” he confesses at one point, before launching into the song of the same name and leading the crowd in a boys v girls’ competition of ‘who can sing better’, taunting us with jibes like “oooh boys you’re so big and strong”, and finally deservedly handing victory to the girls. Seeing a band genuinely having fun always strengthens a performance, and you can tell the musicians absolutely savoured their long-awaited return to Wales. Poignantly, one of the most moving things our frontman says is not addressed to anyone present in the venue, simply being a “I love you Mark”, before God Is In The Radio, in tribute to his friend and former bandmate, Mark Lanegan.

One of the nights greatest moments, in what is surely one of the most awesome set list decisions I’ve ever seen any band make, is the concluding Song For The Dead. With its slow progression, and the way the final section just keeps going, the piece provides the perfect soundtrack to the last ‘go wild’ moment of the night. And, go wild the crowd do, as we’re left with an unforgettable show from one of modern rock’s most enduring and astounding live acts. 10/10

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