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Gig Review: Queens of the Stone Age @ Spark Arena, Auckland 23/08/2018

24 Aug 2018 // A review by butch181

With little fanfare, Australian blues singer C.W. Stoneking took to the stage with his two backing vocalists. Playing what originally appeared to be a rather stripped-down set, and with only microphones and a guitar, C.W Stoneking started his set with his backing singers clapping a beat. It took less than 30 seconds for the audience to get involved and clapping along with. The sound that they all create has an almost dated feel to it, with C.W Stoneking’s strangely Southern drawling accent, combined with the gospel-like element of the backing vocalists. The music style has that vintage vibe to it, with the frontman’s accent rendering large portion of his lyrics unintelligible, like that of an early 50’s recording, while incorporating jazz, soul, and blues elements to a persistent beat that keeps the foot tapping.

Moving into The Zombie, the band enters the stage, and provide additional depth to the music in the form of drums, a double bass, and a brass section. The vocal melodies are intriguing with the backing vocals providing the most intelligible lyrics, with a high, sharp melodies contrast C.W Stoneking’s own deep set vocal style. Slow and meandering, there is an almost lackadaisical quality to the sound that portrays an air of comfort and tranquillity. Injecting some speed into their set for get On The Floor, there is such a folksy feel, but nothing beats the sound and melody of a double bass, especially when combined with a trombone and saxophone. Such a great grouping of instruments.

While the crowd really appeared unaware of his music and were unsure how to react on the floor, the eyes of the motionless crowd remained transfixed to the stage. Throughout, erupting into applause during every refrain. C.W. Stoneking’s style seems fresh, but irrevocably dated, with his intriguing style of abrasive storytelling. One could almost be forgiven to think that an inebriated New Orleans man was telling a story on stage by the power and level of flamboyance to his voice. Breaking a string, the band carried on with an improvised instrumental interlude while C.W. Stoneking re-stringed his instrument; the only time he really stopped to banter with the crowd. A unique performance that managed to simultaneously match yet seem ill-fitted for the evening's festivities.

Exiting the stage, a plethora of techies headed on, adding a series of long LED decorations to the spotlights that framed the performing area. Creating almost a cage of light, the LED decorations reacted almost like a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubeman, standing up straight, but able to be handled and pushed around, and have them return back to standing position.

It was in July 2017 when Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) last graced our shores. While the first leg of the Villains Tour started in North America, they made a pit stop in New Zealand at the beginning, to perform an intimate show at Auckland’s Logan Campbell Centre. With a maximum capacity of 5,000, it sold out almost immediately, and many fans were left disappointed at missing their chance to see Josh Homme and Co. on stage. Promises were made to come back, and just over a year later QOTSA have returned for a full tour of Oceania, including a show in Auckland’s Spark Arena which has a much more suitable (seated) capacity of 12,000.

QOTSA are not fans of repetitive stale set lists, and while they certainly have their go-to tracks that are a part of all their sets, the order is frequently switched between shows, and the accompanying tracks vary from their extensive back catalogue. Being a tour to promote their latest album Villains, Feet Don’t Fail Me, The Evil Has Landed, and Domesticated Animals are the staples of their tours set, along with the albums debut single The Way You Used To Do.

As well as the latest Villains album, heavily represented is their 2002 album, Songs for the Deaf; the two albums making up over half of the set list. The crowd had been packed into the arena right from the start of the night, and their energy levels were still high, but you couldn’t help but notice how well behaved everybody was. Whether it was helped by Josh Homme’s regular insistence that the crowd look after themselves, or the rhythm of the music just wasn’t strong enough for a Thursday Night, moshing and movement in the crowd was minimal. That being said, QOTSA are not necessarily the sort of band that you would mosh to. While varied in style, their rock and roll visage has an incredibly amount of funk and positive energy injected into it. 

As the LED lights lit up the stage, QOTSA played through an extensive 17 song set, Homme smiling all the way through as they entertained the hardcore fans with the newer material, and the casual fans breaking out Smooth Sailing, No One Knows, and Make It Wit Chu. The style of music sat on the fringe between something you jump up and down to, and something you would dance to, but Homme’s onstage charisma shined brighter than the lights that surrounded him. Making use of the lighting around him, the band would frequently send them flying about stage, sometimes straddling them as they played.

Keeping the five-piece in time, the drum kit was a dominant display throughout the night, with a punchy tom-infused performance. The level of bass and reverberation that the kit created was inspiring, and only overshadowed by the vitality displayed by the bassist, swinging and throwing the guitar around the stage. After completing their 17-song set, they exited the stage for a short smoke break, before returning for an encore performance of Mexicola before closing off the night with A Song for the Dead.

Review written by Alex Moulton
Photos provided by Chris Morgan


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