Queens of the Stone Age
w/Eagles of Death Metal
Thurs April 14, the Premier, 9 pm, all ages, sold out.

Desert rock runs on wide lanes through rough, rule-free terrain that sounds drier than Death Valley. The outside world is baked to a standstill as titanium-shelled musicians jack the volume on punk-meets-Hawkwind experimentations to ungodly decibel levels. The record label wouldn't dare to interfere and the neighbors never file noise complaints because they live too far down the highway to hear….

At least that's the daydream notion of rock in the desert landscape, and Queens of the Stone Age do nothing to dispel it--nor should they. In the mainstream consciousness, the band's redheaded frontman, Josh Homme, towers above the genre with both Queens and his loose Desert Sessions project.

"That romantic notion, that's how it is," Homme says of his geographic and spiritual stomping grounds. "There are no butt wipers out there. It just reminds you why you started playing music." He adds without pause, "That's the hardest thing I've had to deal with lately, that everyone else knows so much [about me]. Like people ask me about my girl [the Distillers' Brody Dalle] or why I fired my best friend, and it's like, 'You wouldn't have the balls to fire your best friend for the sake of music.' I just want to play, but people think I'm a Nazi dictator."

So, you wouldn't say you're a Nazi dictator?

"No," he answers dryly, "I'm just one of the henchmen."

Homme's harsh reputation stems from his working relationship with Nick Oliveri, the bald bassist who has tag-teamed with Homme since desert-rock cornerstone Kyuss formed in 1990 (when Homme was 14). Oliveri was kicked out of Queens after the release of 2002's Songs for the Deaf just as the band was entering its golden age.

But Queens' lineup has always been more quicksand than concrete: Drummer Dave Grohl guested on Songs for the Deaf, and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons stopped by for a song on the latest release; Lullabies to Paralyze also features Danzig drummer Joey Castillo and A Perfect Circle's Troy Van Leeuwen. Still, in the public imagination, Oliveri and Homme were the band's twin powerhouses, heating the core sound to molten temperatures. Oliveri added a lunatic unpredictability to both the vocals and his serrated bass rhythms that shredded through the last two albums. For some, it's hard to imagine Queens without its most erratic force.

Lullabies may feel more stable without Oliveri, but in truth, it's just as elephantine as any Queens release. Homme cuts to the quick on this record, eliminating lighter moments like Deaf's banal radio-station banter and quick fixes like "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," the band's obvious ode to obliteration from 2000. Instead, he risks vulnerability ("I Never Came") and adds slow burners like the libidinous "Skin on Skin." And for the record, Homme says that "Everybody Knows That You Are Insane" is not about his former partner in crime. "That would be too obvious," he insists. Whoever its subject, the song, along with "Someone's in the Wolf" and "Little Sister," offers desert rock at its purest high--with hypnotic heat-wave melodies rippling over monstrous guitar fuzz and neo-psychedelic grooves. Homme's sandpaper-dry vocal tone snakes throughout, occasionally backed by the great Mark Lanegan, who smudges his back-from-the-coalmine blackness on everything from backing vocals to a haunting acoustic number, album opener "This Lullaby." (In the late '90s the then-Seattle-based Homme did a stint in Lanegan's Screaming Trees, around the same time he was taking classes at "that college on the corner of Broadway," or SCCC; Lanegan has been a recurring presence on Queens records but is currently not touring with the band.)

Homme is the master of creating a mood, and Lullabies sets a seductive tone without breaking an intoxicating desert spell. It also presents challenges--Oliveri's absence is the least of them--to fans of the band's past offerings. But Homme isn't worried. "I make music for people who are already into us," he explains. "And this record will be very divisive for them. Some of these people will have to theoretically kiss me goodbye with the middle finger, and that's okay. That's the price… If something feels scary, that's got to be the right direction, theoretically. If it feels really safe, I've been there before and we shouldn't stay."


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