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Pop Music Review

Royalty for Power Rock's Masses

With weighty riffs and real hooks, Queens of the Stone Age provide proof that hard rock continues to thrive.

October 07, 2002|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rock is not back. It never left, even if new bands somehow disappeared from the charts and magazine covers in favor of teen pop and other diversions. Most of the acts now being celebrated as rescuing rock from oblivion have in fact been releasing exciting, worthwhile material since the late '90s. Right when rock supposedly died.

Count among those bands Queens of the Stone Age, though to categorize them as "garage rock" would be to grossly underestimate their raw power. At the Palladium on Friday, the band made hard rock that was smart and heavy, exploring themes of dread, paranoid delusions, sex and drugs, set across minimalist patterns and played with an intensity that frayed into dementia.

That's a heavy load, but never humorless. The sound was often dark and heavy, with riffs like bricks, and yet it also swung with real hooks, opening with the thrashy "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire," taken from the band's just-released third album, "Songs for the Deaf."

It's a sound designed to be heard in the openness of the California desert, which is where the core members of Queens of the Stone Age first emerged. Singer-guitarist Josh Homme and singer-bassist Nick Oliveri began making music during the late '80s in a psychedelic metal act called Kyuss--critically acclaimed and mostly ignored by the masses--playing rock that was ultra-heavy but never stringent.

Queens is a more sophisticated version of that old Kyuss blueprint. At the Palladium, the mostly instrumental "Song for the Dead" showed the band at its most aggressive, all big beats and hyperactive guitar, while "The Sky Is Fallin' " featured epic, slashing chords with a swirling Eastern flavor, as Homme crooned peacefully above the noise.

The stage lights were turned low for the unannounced entrance of Mark Lanegan, former singer of the Screaming Trees, and now a permanent part of the rotating Queens confab. He gripped the microphone stand like a javelin during "Hangin' Tree," leading the band through some darker, meditative passages.

Lanegan also ripped through the raunchy, elastic rock of "In the Fade," with the band sounding a lot closer to T. Rex than Black Sabbath. Homme soon asked fans to hold up their lighters during "No One Knows," a nod to the band's first radio hit, and they did--at least those who managed to slip a lighter past the Palladium's security.

... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead offered a fitting opening for the headliners with a tight rock set that could have come right out of CBGB's, the bare-bones punk rock club in New York.

The Austin, Texas, quartet was often just as direct as the Hives, but then shifted into something more challenging, edging toward the experimental territory of Sonic Youth.

Drawing largely on material from its self-titled major label debut, the band's set was raw and unpredictable. And at one point, singer Conrad Keely ended a song by complaining about his guitar. He then handed it to a fan pressed against the barricade, sneering, "He can keep it."

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