Josh Homme thrives on being singular. With a career spanning decades, the Queens of the Stone Age frontman strutted into Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night with a rare kind of confidence. It was the confidence of a guy wrapping up a leg of touring that has already been revealed to be the first of many, the confidence of having just delivered a long-awaited album that proved satisfying to the masses, the confidence of packing one of the most iconic venues in the world in a city that has long proven to be a Mecca for rock music. Such confidence should be expected when a rock star dares to perform for thousands, but Homme isn’t satisfied with being predictable. He wants to tower over his peers.
If he wanted to do this with just his music, he could. On Tuesday, he drew from all of the Queens albums, even noting ahead of their self-titled debut’s “Mexicola” that the song was more than 20 years old. Certain albums received an expected emphasis, as Songs for the Deaf has long settled into a wide consensus as their masterpiece, while …Like Clockwork and the recent Villains get a boost for being the freshest ideas. The songs generally displayed a no-frills presentation, with exceptions like a vast “No One Knows” standing out because of the band’s willingness to jam or “Make It Wit Chu” stretching out when Homme forgot some words. Performing on a stage dressed with little else than some vertical tube lights, Homme banked on his songwriting craft and his band’s chops and ferocity. It’s a bet he wins on the regular.
But in performing, Homme also wants his audience to get to know him. He isn’t shy about addressing the audience, even if what he says comes with a whiff of vodka. On this night, Homme seemed set on underscoring the raunchiness of the band’s music, a theme that’s implied more in the grooves than explicitly stated. At one point when a fight broke out in the audience, the frontman focused on diffusing the situation, making it sure it was known that this is music better suited for fucking than fighting. Slogans like “everyone gets laid tonight” and “let’s make tonight a night you never remember” landed somewhere between dad jokes and frat humor, and even stranger digressions into banter somehow would find their way back to the song title that was about to be revealed. The sense was that Homme was just being himself, and he really didn’t care whether it came off endearing, amusing, sleazy, or sophomoric. Most often, it was a little of all of these at once.
But one thing that resonated was Homme’s insistence that the night was about everyone having a good time. He’s not an entertainer in the same manner as friend and kindred spirit Dave Grohl, but the same sense of responsibility comes across. Bands like Queens of the Stone Age know what rock shows have meant to them as fans, and they want to satisfy and exhilarate. It’s not going to cause Homme to run around the stage or dive into the audience like opener Royal Blood, but it will make him take his job seriously as an entertainer for the two hours he’s out there. He does so without pandering, without betraying his weirdness, and without resorting to many of the rock star cliches of his peers. Even on stage at MSG, where countless others have played rock shows before, Queens of the Stone Age come across as refreshing originals. For one night, it felt like Josh Home could have it all, coming across as massive and cool at the same time. It’s a hard rope to walk and one Queens of the Stone Age excels at.