Review: Queens of the Stone Age bust moves, get mighty loud at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

The California rockers had the crowd on its feet all night.
Published May 3, 2018

Tattooed, towering and thick as a brick smokehouse, Josh Homme isn't built much like a dancer.

But the singer had plenty of ants in his pants when Queens of the Stone Age hit the Mahaffey Theater stage Wednesday night in St. Petersburg. Barely a song passed without Homme swinging, shimmying, even letting the odd grin crack his imposing facade as, for the second time in five years, QOTSA gave the Mahaffey a noggin-knockin' night to remember.

"Over the years we've played all kinds of venues, little tiny ones and real big ones," Homme told the sold-out crowd of more than 2,000. "But if you turn on the lights for a second, I like this one the most."

Sounds like rubber-stamped banter, but on this night, Homme really seemed to mean it. Maybe it was the "huge head rush" he said he had from "sniffing glue in the parking lot," or maybe it was the truly into-it crowd that stood the whole show and danced even more than he did.

Either way, thanks to a crowd Homme consistently praised for "sweating, dancing, moving around and drinking," Queens songs that used to sound like bare-knuckle riots, like You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire, sounded more like invitations to rock one's body.

And it kind of makes sense. There's always been a little boogie-woogie built into Queens of the Stone Age's fuzzed-out stoner sludge, as evidenced by the off-the-rails madness of Little Sister, monsteriffic bounce of No One Knows and devilish disco of If I Had a Tail. They just embraced it a little more on their latest album Villains.

The Evil Has Landed forced rhythm into arrhythm, with the band pounding out Zeppeliny riffs amid proggy synthesizer squiggles. The horrorbilly freakout Head Like a Haunted House was driven by rolling percussion and those very same synths, inspiring Homme to swivel behind his mic like an undead Elvis. Even Villains of Circumstance, which began as noirish and glowering piano-bar blues, quickly evolved into bright, swinging rock.

Credit must also go to a dynamic light show, highlighted by a small forest of LED pylons spread across the stage, into which band members could flail at their leisure. This tour is also hitting some arenas and outdoor amphitheaters, and cramming all those geegaws onto one smaller theater stage was dazzling. On Hangin' Tree, the lights bled blue and red in hallucinogenic pulses. On Sick, Sick, Sick they created the illusion of a low-ceilinged club or basement.

But with Queens of the Stone Age, it all really comes back to Homme. Every now and then he'd flit back to the shadows to spark up a cig, tucking it behind his E string so he could focus on his falsetto on I Never Came. He shared a swig of something from his glass with one fan in the front row, and toward the end, took a request from another: Avon, from Queens' 20-year-old debut album.

"You can't throw her out, it's fine," he said afterward, when it looked like security might have the fan removed. "Our audience is totally f—ing badass."

Queens of the Stone Age performed at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on May 2, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Queens of the Stone Age performed at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on May 2, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

In a very Hommeian move, openers Wolf Alice came out swinging with their best-known single, the snarling grunge-glammy Moaning Lisa Smile. But that was nothing compared to the finale. After a set that lurched from heavy, churning sludge to dreamy, evocative shoegaze — shades of Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine and the Pixies — the British quartet roared to a cataclysmic finale. Singer Ellie Roswell perched herself at the edge of the stage, howling into the mi on Giant Peach, as guitarist Joff Oddie careened to her right, practically wrestling with his axe as peals of feedback flooded from the speakers.

Wolf Alice opened for Queens of the Stone Age at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on May 2, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Wolf Alice opened for Queens of the Stone Age at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on May 2, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

It was one of those shows where you couldn't help but finish strong. When Queens of the Stone Age came back out for a one-song encore, the jabbing, thrashing Song for the Dead, Homme pushed himself as far to stage left as he could go, shoving speakers out of he way to get even further out. And when he got to a balcony hanging just over the stage, he reached up in there, and you could tell for a second he was trying to figure out how to climb up in.

Sometimes the spirit just shakes you that way, even when you're a giant like Josh Homme. There are nights when a man's gotta move.

— Jay Cridlin