Queens of the stone-cold kick
Can shooting a rock band resemble wildlife photography?
On January 30, I saw one of my favorite troupes, Queens of the Stone Age, at Memorial Auditorium downtown. It was also my first time, as a writer, getting press access to take photos for a national act.
The national act got viral buzz in December after its frontman, Josh Homme, kicked a photographer in the face during a show in Los Angeles. He’s since apologized, and I wasn’t worried about being attacked, but it did make me ponder what could have provoked him. One theory was that Homme was aiming for the camera’s flash.
The Sacramento stop was part of Queens’ national tour supporting their seventh album, Villains, released in October, a record that trades moshable for danceable in songs like “The Way You Used to Do” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” which they played, along with material out of the old catalog. In particular, stuff from their best albums: Songs for the Deaf and Lullabies to Paralyze.
But it started with opener Eagles of Death Metal. Frontman Jesse Hughes entered, donning a thick mustache that itself didn’t give a shit, and before walking into the spotlight, Hughes took a long look at the crowd and a deep breath. Like he’d set his suitcase down. This guy, who’s not from around here, was home, I thought.
As the fivesome danced through a set of fun-first rock ’n’ roll, the performance seemed heroic. This was the same group that survived the Bataclan massacre in Paris two years ago. Hughes repeatedly asked the crowd that night, with the panache of a WWE wrestler, “Are you having a good time?”
Toward the end, Hughes invited his best friend to play onstage, Homme manning the drums for a 12-minute version of the song “Speaking in Tongues,” which the two co-wrote.
The stage aesthetic for Eagles consisted of a few Trojan helmets and Richard Simmons’ face plastered to the guitar cabs. The furniture for Queens was less ironic, more ominous. A dozen staggered, pliable pillars of light emitted neon blue, red, green, purple. Usually uniform, sometimes painfully all colors at once.
The highlight of Queens was the final encore: “A Song for the Dead,” a big, dumb, two-note punk riff rapture that stumbled into blues rock spiteful enough to knock a few light pillars over.
What’s quickly clear in the press pit: It feels invasive being that close. For three songs, you’re standing in the same space as the security, where crowd surfers get dumped in and carried off. You’re clicking away like they’re an endangered species, and even without camera flash, you make enough short eye contact with the band to know that you’re not invisible to them. Enough to make you say to yourself, “OK, do your job, but be a human while you’re at it.”
Nobody got kicked in the face this time, unless we imagined the band’s set as a big glossy boot. Then the answer is everybody. All 4,000 or so packing Memorial Auditorium, then UC Davis Medical Center down the street. Because the set was like Homme and his bandmates kicking us in the face. In a good way. With heavy music.