What makes a great gig?
Since this Queens of The Stone Age (aka QOTSA) gig, I’ve seen a few comments on social media about the current Villains tour along the lines of “it was good but not as good as when I saw them at ……. in …….” The two blanks generally related to a smaller venue some ten or more years ago. I wasn’t at those gigs. I’m sure they were wonderful.
Well, so were QOTSA at the O2.
A gig stands and falls on its context on the evening. I’ve seen some stunning gigs in tiny venues and some awful ones too. I’ve seen some dreadful gigs at the O2 and some wonderful ones also. Leonard Cohen made the enormous tent feel like a tiny chapel, introducing a sense of intimacy that held the audience in his thrall. It is about how a musician uses the space and projects themselves and their music. I didn’t go and see Nick Cave at the venue recently for fear that it wouldn’t work and it appears that I missed something special.
It takes a special band to transcend the space of the O2 and produce something as enjoyable as the Queens did. It requires stage craft and a sense of scale. Make sure that there is something for people crushed against the stage and something for those souls up in the gods at the back of the venue. Know your audience and how to positively push their buttons. Play the hits but also play some buried treasure. Know when to call it a night. Think about the lighting. Make sure the sound is decent. Use video technology intelligently.
Many of these apply to all gigs but they especially apply to arena gigs.
I approached the QOTSA gig with a significant degree of reticence. I’ve got a stinker of a cold and the O2 is a schlep, particularly back home to North London at the end of an evening spent on my feet. However the thought of an evening spent in the company of Josh Homme and my mate Ray pulled me through.
The QOTSA experience was total. A black backdrop with flexible LED light poles for the band to kick and drape themselves around was a good tableau. A set list that drew from their two most recent albums but still went as far back as “Regular John” (“first track, first album” as Josh said) catered for all tastes. The rhythm section were tight, the lead instruments spectacularly locked in. The vocals were sweet not least on the playful BeeGees pop of “Make It Wit Chu”. “The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret” was a personal favourite, my entry point to the band’s music back in 2000.
Josh and Dean’s stint in Iggy Pop’s incredible Post Pop Depression project has informed the band’s ability to truly swing. Always there, simmering below the surface, the work with Iggy plus the collaboration with Mark Ronson has brought it to the fore on new tracks such as “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” and “The Way You Used To Do”. There are few bands who can combine such heft and crunch with lightness and even femininity. It has also informed Josh’s presence, standing tall, proud and central to the band’s swaggering performance. “Domesticated Animals” pulled it all together, equally taut and dramatic.
It may well be that those previous gigs at the Roundhouse or the Brixton Academy or wherever else in the UK that the band play in the last seventeen years were different.
But better? That would take some doing.