Words by Ross Bonaime, Photos by Farrah Skeiky
I was really starting to think Queens of the Stone Age hated D.C. Every few months, QOTSA would announce more dates in support of one of last year’s best albums …Like Clockwork and they somehow managed to avoid the area. I mean, for the love of god, they even came to Richmond and beyond that, from what I can tell the last time they were in the D.C. area was all the way back in 2005. Hey Josh, that’s almost a decade! So of course having QOTSA at Merriweather was a big deal, not to mention that they would have the always incredible St. Vincent opening up for them. What followed was a show with two diversely different types of great rock, both mind-meltingly awesome.
Annie Clark of St. Vincent has been a particularly intriguing live musician to watch over the years. Post Actor, she was just a great singer/guitarist who upon hearing her, it sounded like something wasn’t quite right, a bit eery at times. After two more solo albums and a collaboration with David Byrne, she’s taking on very stagey and fun dynamic.
Clark’s stage presence is a ballet android that’s been dipped in water. During her opener “Rattlesnake,” she comes out to sing, then takes tiny tiptoeing steps to her guitar, before getting on her knees and shredding like a maniac. This robotic side to her songs keeps popping up, such as in a sight and sound overload thrown into the middle of “Marrow” or when she takes to the stop of a group of pink steps and her voice during “Cheerleader” comes out hauntingly low.
Around the time Clark got to her next-to-last song “Huey Newton,” the character was broken, letting her emotions show and even kissing the security guard on the head before walking out after her final song “Bring Me Your Loves.” I’ve seen St. Vincent three times and every time, she just floors me. From her seemingly insane stage performance to the ridiculous sounds she can get out of her guitar, Clark is a monster. One of the greatest living guitarists right now and her music is only getting more outstanding. Keep doing whatever craziness you want to do Clark, it’s working.
While Clark was very mannered and specific in her movements, Queens of the Stone Age were dirty, loud and rough, in a perfect way. What connects the two is they both know their ways around a fucking guitar. Before coming to the stage, a timer counted down sixty seconds, when it eventually hit zero, a spotlight hit the drums as QOTSA began hard with “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire,” with Homme singing it several octaves lower than on record. Following this up with two of QOTSA’s best songs, “No One Knows” and “My God is the Sun” instated Homme’s view of the night to “drink, dance, party, just have a good time.”
Their twenty-song set flew back and forth through the band’s history, from Rated R to …Like Clockwork. Red lights illuminated the band from behind, with sporadic clouds of weed smoke wafting throughout the crowd. The way they blocked their best songs together kept building the excitement. Halfway through their set, they started one of these chunks with “I Sat by the Ocean,” to be followed by a piano solo that led into “…Like Clockwork,” then the phenomenal “If I Had a Tail,” maybe the second greatest song ever with a prominent cowbell “Little Sister,” then a ridiculously rough-as-hell version of “Turnin’ on the Screw,” with screw lights turning in the background.
Homme performed with an aura of coolness, expertly balancing a cigarette as he plays his guitar through “Make It Wit Chu,” like it’s second nature. QOTSA end their set with “Go With the Flow,” which would be a perfect way to go out for the night.
Coming back the encore, Homme sat behind a spotlit piano for “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,”,cigarette back in hand and a drink rested atop like an old school crooner. Followed up with “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” adding lyrics (mostly from Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again”) to a song that usually only contains less than 10 words and dragging out to the excitement of the crowd. Ending the night, QOTSA finish things up with “Song For the Dead,” leaving the whole set on a high note, crowd surfing audience and riffs galore.
Basically, Queens of the Stone Age and St. Vincent created a night showcasing just how diverse and exciting the guitar can be, but also just put on a hell of a perfect summer show. Now, let’s just make sure it’s not another decade before we get a return.