Review | At Anthem show, rock is not dead for Queens of the Stone Age

For more than a quarter century, Josh Homme and the Queens of the Stone Age have been fools for love and drugs, pondering the void and burning rubber (and bridges) on a journey, as he sings on “No One Knows,” “through the desert of the mind with no hope.” Journeys eventually end. But on Wednesday night at the Anthem, the last hard-’n’-heavy band that matters proved they aren’t dead yet.

The five-piece kicked off just after 9 with “No One Knows,” speeding through one of their best-known anthems like a Camaro down a highway to hell. Behind them, a staggering pyramid of lights threatened sensory overload, leaving audience members wondering if they’d first go blind or deaf.

Eardrum punishment was delivered with precision and ferocity by Homme’s longtime bandmates — keyboardist and guitarist Dean Fertita, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen (a “goth Willy Wonka from the future,” according to Homme), Baltimore-born drummer Jon Theodore and bassist Michael Shuman, who looked, in Homme’s words, like a guy who “started a club in Berlin on cocaine money.”

Homme’s bonhomie continued through the night as the charismatic frontman doled out elliptical stoner wisdom (“It’s better when the lights are off … people do what they wanna do in the dark”) and sarcastic asides (“Don’t go fighting now … That takes the attention off me”) to the “freaks, crazies, dancers and lazies” in the audience. He called D.C., which the band hadn’t visited since 2017, a strange town and a “city of secrets” that he was starting to love, but warned the crowd, “Don’t get too excited — it could wear off in a few minutes.”

What hasn’t worn off is the power of the Queens’ live chops: guitarists who palm mute big dumb riffs and wrench weeping solos out of their instruments, a locked-in rhythm section anchored by Theodore’s percussive attack and Homme’s baritone croon and surprising falsetto that are intact despite — or perhaps because of — years of cigarettes and tequila.

Cuts from the band’s latest album, “In Times New Roman …,” fit right in the catalogue, with the Sabbath stomp and sternum punch of “Made to Parade” (which made its U.S. debut) and “Paper Machete,” with its oo-oo-oo-oo-oos and a riff as memorable as any they’ve committed to tape. Apart from malapropistic portmanteau song titles — “Emotion Sickness,” “Obscenery,” etc. — the album is the band’s angriest, having been born in the wake of Homme’s messy, public divorce and the deaths of friends and collaborators.

For Homme, the way out is through. Perhaps with tongue in cheek, he told the crowd to just smile on the merry-go-round of life when introducing “Carnavoyeur,” a song that reminds listeners that “every living thing will die.” Sure, rock is on its way out. But then again, we all are. So act accordingly.

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