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LIVE: Queens Of The Stone Age – Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, 23/06/2023

To be fair, even in their prime, you were never quite sure what you were going to get at a QOTSA live show.

This author particularly remembers a plodding mid-afternoon set in the sun at Reading Festival in 2001 which was painful to watch. Even the double joy of seeing both Nick Olivieri’s penis and Nick Olivieri’s beard flapping in the Berkshire breeze could not elevate it above the level of drab.

At their best, though, they were incredible. There was a show at the Forum where they absolutely tore the roof off for what seemed like hours. Bassist Olivieri was lead rabble-rouser, Singer Josh Homme was enthralling with his sharp, aggressive guitar lines, and the now-sadly-departed Mark Lanegan brought his gruff brilliance too. There’s a set from Glastonbury 2002 on YouTube which really captures the band at their absolute best from that era too, complete with a certain Mr Grohl on drums.

This was in late-2002, which was really the band’s heyday. Songs For The Deaf had been released earlier that year, the first great rock record of the 21st century, and unsurpassed since then. Themed around a road trip through the desert, it incorporated screaming thrash and grinding stoner rock into an irresitable hard rock journey, one which catapulted the band into the mainstream behind singles ‘No One Knows’ and ‘Go With The Flow’.

Olivieri left the band in early 2004, and sadly, much of the band’s punk rock spirit left with him. That said, the popularity of the band has remained very high, as evidenced by how quickly tonight’s show sold out. With the maturity of hindsight, most of us can probably admit that most of the band’s albums since then haven’t been awful, and that a greatest hits set from those records would probably stand up against any other band from the era.

Which is a good thing, because for the first hour or so of tonight’s set at beautiful Cardiff Castle, that is exactly what we see, and it’s a really rather good arena rock show. Not Glasto 2002 good, but definitely a lot better than Reading 2001.

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There’s plenty of highlights, from the staccato jerkiness of ‘Sick Sick Sick’ to the sweeping majesty of ‘My God Is The Sun’ to the menacing ‘If I Had A Tail’. Right up with those is the groovy fun of ‘The Evil Has Landed’, from the Villains album, a track that actually singularly justifies the continued existence of Mark Ronson. Bravo.

The band also play four songs from new album In Times New Roman, of which the undoubted highlight is lead single ‘Emotion Sickness’. The howling guitar riff in the verses on that track really is something else, one to make the guitarists in the audience make a rash investment in whatever pedal is needed to make their instrument sound like that.

‘Make It Wit Chu’, meanwhile, is accompanied by some fun crowd participation, which proves that, even in the land of Harry Secombe and Tom Jones, the average lady on the street has a much better singing voice than the average guy. Sorry fellas, we sounded pretty bad.

What is really striking about the set, when compared to the early noughties, is the demeanour of Homme. Back in the day, he was the epitome of aloof cool, all arrogant swagger. He wasn’t rude to the crowd, but a lot of the time, he wasn’t exactly welcoming either. Tonight, though, is totally different. He genuinely seems overwhelmed by the reception his band gets, and he smiles! A lot! Not gonna lie, it feels nice to be loved by Josh Homme.

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Anyway, that was the first hour.

Then shit got real.

It is initiated, as you might expect, by those iconic opening chords to ‘No One Knows’. Instantly, the moshpit, which had been a polite 30 rows or so deep for most of the night, suddenly goes 300+ rows deep, and man, it is wild. Suddenly, it really DOES feel like 2002 all over again.

This is followed up with ‘In The Fade’, which is a great tribute to Lanegan, a man who truly did live until he died. Then ‘God Is In The Radio’, a song they have hardly played in the last fifteen years, which they may or may not have chosen to play to mark the twentieth anniversary of Cardiff-based music website God Is In The TV. Either way, it’s probably the best song of the night.

The band close with ‘ A Song For The Dead’, and in the moshpit, it is absolute fucking chaos. Even though this track is old enough to legally drink in the US now, the heaviness of it will never get old.

The only slight disappointment is the omission of ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ from the setlist, even though it could clearly be heard drifting down the streets of Cardiff during the soundcheck, but we can’t be too greedy. For those who weren’t around in 2002, this ending to the show is a more-than-worthy flashback.

All-in-all, a tremendous night, a brilliant celebration of one of the truly great rock bands of this century. Long live the Queens of the Stone Age.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.