Queens of the Stone Age, Royal Blood
Sat., Feb. 17
Let’s put our cards on the table shall we? Music journalists and photojournalists do not make much money these days. When it comes to covering concerts, after gas, parking and maybe a beer or two –particularly at a big arena like The Forum- we’re lucky to break even. So why do we do it? Because we love music, of course. But sometimes, certain bands make it hard. Really hard.
Warning: This is not going to be your standard concert review. I’ll tell you what Queens of the Stone Age did on stage and how they sounded, but I’m taking the opportunity here to enlighten you about a lot more too–I gotta. The band have sort of forced my hand to do so. And, considering singer Josh Homme’s treatment of the press (yes, I’m talking about Chelsea Lauren, the female photographer he kicked in the face at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas at the same venue end of last year, but there have been other incidents too) it’s fair and relevant to do so. I’m sure he’s expecting every review today to reference that awful moment and I’m sure they all will. But forging good will with media after what happened, not letting it overshadow the music and helping us not hate him, that was up to Homme on Saturday. Not only did he fail, I think he intentionally set out to keep the fires burning, not only to reference the title of the band’s latest album, Villains, but also to own it and even embody it. Maybe he just didn’t give a shit (just like he didn’t seem to at first when he hurt Lauren). Or maybe somebody who works for him just messed up… Nah.
See, even though people who write about music make squat, we get amazing perks. Everybody knows we do too. Back in the day it was free CDs or albums we could trade for cash (or music we actually wanted)! That’s gone in the digital age. So scoring amazing seats for shows–seats we could never afford in our pay brackets–is really the coolest thing about doing what we do. Our QOTSA seats on Saturday were hands down the worst seats in the house, the very back of the arena, in the nose bleed area. In my 20+ year history of reviewing shows, I have never had a worse vantage for reviewing a concert.
Some of you fans might be thinking, “Well boo hoo… they were free, right?” Some of you love the band enough to pay to sit up there! Perhaps it’d be good for me to see how the music reads up in the cheap seats? I considered that, and often times I do go up to these areas to see how shows are resonating with fans from far away. When I’m not reviewing and don’t have a hook-up, these are the kinds of seats I buy if I’m desperate to see an artist or just to be there. But having a good (or at least decent) in an arena is helpful in critiquing a live performance–I think that’s self-explanatory. It actually behooves the band too because some are better than others when you’re immersed by their rhythms and presence. The Palm Desert rockers are definitely one of these types of bands, so they really kicked themselves (had to!) with the seating arrangements.
Ok. So press were banished to the boondocks. That sucked. Lucky for me I had a photo pass as well which meant I got to see the first three songs up close from the pit below the stage –the same pit where said incident took place a few months ago. I don’t have the biggest or fanciest SLR camera, but I’ve been in some huge and legendary photo pits, from Coachella to Staples Center to the Forum for Acoustic Christmas. I’ve been drenched by beer, water and fake blood spewed by bands and I’ve been shoved, semi-trampled and caught a boot to my head from crowd surfers and stage divers many times over the years. It can be a dangerous place, and I’m always thankful for the big burly security guards who work this area. If not for them, I think my wound tally would be a lot longer. But I have never felt like the artist on stage could be the source of real harm, even when it was obvious they weren’t so into seeing me shooting photos from beneath them.
I don’t think Homme intentionally set out to hurt Lauren or anyone back in December as some have said based on the video footage, but I do believe he was reckless and seemingly intoxicated. He deserves as much blame for the incident as a drunk driver does for hurting someone in a car. And his attitude after the fact was arrogant and unapologetic. Anyone who’s followed the guy wasn’t too surprised, though. From his brawl with the singer of The Dwarves (which led to anger management courses) to his treatment of a drunk fan who jumped on stage back in 2014, Homme clearly can be a real A-hole. He knows it, hence the title of his band’s latest album, Villains.
Friends joked that I should wear a helmet into the photo pit, but I wasn’t worried. Just in case he wanted to go nuts again, the pit was divided into three areas. Yellow tape designated the center area below the stage and Homme’s mic as a “Do Not Enter” zone so photogs had to choose sides – left or right and were not allowed to move from one to the other. It was the source of amusement and maybe a bit of frustration amongst my fellow shutterbugs (of which by the way, I only saw two other women) but we all got the shots we needed and got to hear Homme reference the incident up close, stating, “It’s good to be back at the Forum. Much better than last time I was here.” He didn’t look down at me or the other photogs once.
Concert photographers in general aren’t treated very well. After the allotted shooting time, they are usually escorted out of the venue and if they don’t have a ticket, that’s it. Buh-bye. They don’t even get to enjoy the show. For me, shooting and writing can be logistically challenging because often they don’t want me to bring my camera back into the venue. Places like the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek have camera check-ins for this purpose but sometimes a walk back to the car is required, and at a massive locale like the Forum, that’s a trek. Since my camera is small without a big lens, I had already been in the venue with it to watch openers Royal Blood (who rule by the way), but they were being much stricter when Queens played.
I ran into a friend who offered me a wristband to the “Villains Club” so I opted to hang there for a bit while I decided what to do about my illegal cargo. It was really just the venue’s hospitality room (The Forum Club) which I am often given a wristband for while covering shows there, and much appreciate since there’s usually lots of yummy snacks. Obviously, Queens did not provide press access to this grotto of gluttony, which was extra extravagant for their villain theme with a devilish, all-red candy bar, cakes and pies, a sundae bar, salads, burgers, coffee and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
When I started covering shows, it seemed like there was always some sort of VIP room situation with free food, if not drinks. That still exists, but access to these areas for press has lessened markedly. One might argue that being treated well at a concert, being fed, etc. might compromise our reviews, swaying us to write something nice, but I don’t think food or even drink has ever had that kind of power. I sure as hell never considered selling my journalistic integrity for a free beer or a burger. Still, offering some to media post kickgate couldn’t have hurt QOTSA.
So how was the band? After the camera debacle (I simply hid it in the bottom of my purse), I walked back, not to my crappy seats, but to the floor area with some of my well-connected friends. I had missed about three songs (including the hit, “No One Knows” ) but it was a long set so I got the breadth of what they were doing. To the band’s credit they were tight and bright sonically, yet they seemed nice and loose on stage too, jam-like as usual. I’ve seen them many times and it’s what they do best- near-flawless melt your face off instrumentation that meanders in menacing and mystical ways, but never gets completely lost. Homme and his bandmates (Troy Van Leeuwen, Dean Fertita, Michael Shuman and Jon Theodore) can have free-form-feeling freakouts, but however they reinterpet a song’s structure live, the sound is always on point, from his soulfully caustic croon to the sizzling swirl of guitars and brutal consistency of the bass and drums. His hip-shaking and constant kicking and shoving of the horizontal light displays that surrounded the band grew a bit tiresome though.
Nevertheless, Queens are a powerful unit on stage and despite the difficulties of the evening and preconceptions based on recent events, I found myself mesmerized while watching them, most of the time. Most Queens fans want to hear the old stuff, and the consensus on the set list after the show, hanging in the Villains Club again, was mixed. Too many slow songs and latter era tracks, some said. As a fan of their first two records and of Mark Ronson (who produced Villains and made an appearance on stage for four songs during the encore, including a weird but decent cover of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”) I thought the overall musical output was fine. Plus, it’s just nice to see a real rock band be able to fill the Forum again after The Misfits did it (though despite announcements it didn’t look sold out to me Sat.).
Anyway, I’d been listening to Villains a lot before the show and dug hearing “The Evil Has Landed” off the new record. I hadn’t realized how appropriate the lyrics were, especially the coda that concludes it, til I heard it live (“Here we come/Here we come/Get outta the way/Here we come/Get outta the way/Matters not/What the people say/Matters not/What the people say/’Cause here we come/Get Outta the Way, Yeah.”) This one, coupled with the bonafide rage-fest that is the band’s go-to climax, “A Song for the Dead,” saw Homme lose it once again on stage, writhing around, jumping on monitors and hanging from light stands. No blows occurred Saturday night though. That is, if you don’t count journalist’s egos.
If I Had a Tail
Monsters in the Parasol
My God Is the Sun
Feet Don’t Fail Me
The Way You Used to Do
You Can’t Quit Me Baby
No One Knows
The Evil Has Landed
I Sat by the Ocean
Burn the Witch
Make It Wit Chu
I Appear Missing
Villains of Circumstance
Go With the Flow
The Vampyre of Time and Memory (with Mark Ronson)
Broken Box (with Mark Ronson)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (with Mark Ronson)
Un-Reborn Again (with Mark Ronson)
A Song for the Dead