A shot of whiskey chased by beer and tequila; superficially, C.W. Stoneking might be an unusual choice of opener for a Queen of the Stone Age crowd, but Villains is about that get-up-and-dance, baby, and Stoneking gets your backside moving. His band is tight, clean, glittery back-up singers mingling with tunes that run the gamut between bitter blues and brassy bop numbers before the main event.
Bookending Australia with the Villains tour, double-dipping in 2017 and 2018, it’s perhaps easier to believe Josh Homme’s platitudes about Australia being his favourite place. He married Melbournian Brody Dalle after all – and when he says he loves us, I buy it.
There was something a little special going on during the opening show of the two-night, sold out Sydney run: a renewed patience from Homme – noting that he’s all about letting go and moving on – a nod to the rough year that’s been. Graciously, he’s not applying the same mentality to crafting the setlist, which spanned a bumper 21-song catalogue - far and away was the longest and strongest of this leg of the tour, going all the way back to where it all began: a ferocious and infrequently played "Regular John" opener.
Homme is joined by uber-suave Troy Van Leeuwen, swinging between 12-string double-neckers and clean single-coil setups, Dean Fertita juggling guitar and keys, latest dummer Jon Theodore abusing the skins and Michael “Mikey Shoes” Shuman bouncing his bass while still getting ripped on for his baby-face. They say you can never go home, but it's a comfy approximation.
The set shifts into high gear with a couple must-haves ("A Song for the Deaf"/"Go With The Flow"), before three party tracks and a gut-punch off Rated R - "Do It Again" slides tonally onto "Feet Don't Fail Me," the opener off Villains. "The Way You Used to Do" gets the crowd jumping – a year after release, fans have clearly embraced (well, perhaps dealt with) the Mark Ronson-pop aesthetic of these new tunes –these tracks are granted heavier mixes in a live space than the album affords them.
The real stunner of the night was reserved for mid-set, however: a heaving, blinding "In the Fade," the sole track of the night off Rated R. Queens have blown the dust off this tune and rotated it back into a few of their Australian shows. Good call.
From dark and heavy classics to manic-depressive missives: Head Like a Haunted House is a jumpy speedball of licks, foot on the accelerator before crashing into slower grooves like "Smooth Sailing," "Domesticated Animals" and "If I Had a Tail."
2013’s …Like Clockwork may be Queens of the Stone Age’s most reflective, somber album – so self-assured and absent of flash. But when you break out "I Appear Missing" live, it’s easy to overlook this track in the abundance of jams on offer. For me, it was a showstopper: it soars, dives, lands hard, backed up by an equally personal "Villains of Circumstance" – the closing track off Villains.
The main show finishes with "Little Sister" and "Go With The Flow," boom-boom, before a much-appreciated three-track encore: "Make it Wit Chu," "Millionaire" and "A Song for the Dead." The night took us on a turn-and-burn road trip from the dry, thrilling, desert windblown late-90s sound of their origin to the focused, nuanced pop-sentiments of their latest: a front-man reflecting on his fortunes, a band who could phone it in but never do and a tour capper that tore it up one more time.