This summer Aurora Cannabis has been celebrating marijuana legalization by promoting series of free Illumination Series concerts across Canada and Vancouver arguably was treated to one of the very best shows among them all. Queens Of The Stone Age have been on a worldwide arena tour all year and just weeks ago Aurora announced that they’d be playing a rare intimate club show at Vancouver’s beloved Commodore Ballroom with support from the Eagles Of Death Metal (certainly no strangers to the Commodore themselves).
Tickets were graciously made available through a lottery system, essentially wherein fans could sign up with their email for a chance to win a pair of tickets to this FREE show. Naturally, demand was far higher than supply for the event and fans soon scrambled to be among the audience of about 1000 people on the hot BC Day weekend. For pedestrian fans of the band, this was already an incredible opportunity, but over the past two decades, QOTSA has cultivated a devoted and adoring fan-base that locally has seen them steadily rise from humble beginnings at the Starfish Room (RIP) up to their headlining Pacific Coliseum performance back in January. Outside the venue, Granville Street understandably had lengthy line-ups both for ticket holders and for the free rush seating which would commence on a first come basis for all unclaimed seats after 9pm.
Though their line-up, their look, and their sound is ever-evolving; Queens fans can always be sure that J-Ho & Co. will give the audience an unforgettable evening of music running the gamut between hard-hitting rock and smooth groovy jams. As you’d expect, Aurora Cannabis also made tickets available for local industry sorts, media outlets, and promoters and this did present other avenues for seeking access to this show. This author was incredibly fortunate to have been granted not only VIP privileges at the performance but also access to an “organic hang” (AKA meet & greet) with the band backstage before the show. In the media line, we received our various bracelets including the ubiquitous glowing Aurora rubber watch which would later be synched to the music inside and then made our way up the Commodore stairs to wait outside the green room about an hour before the show started (more on this later).
Now, I have religiously gone to worship among those devoted to Jesse “The Devil” Hughes and the Eagles of Death Metal since their very earliest headlining Vancouver shows (Red Room, 2004) as well as abroad. I can say with conviction that you can consistently count on an ass-shakin’ good time at an EODM show in whatever house of worship they happen to be performing in. This evening was no different, but it should be noted it was the first time in 14 years and 14 performances that I’d ever seen them without “Diamond” Dave Catching among their ranks, in his place instead this evening on guitar was Walter Ino. Jorma Vik and Jennie Vee continue to be what might be the best rhythm section the band have had through its many years and various line-ups and the two of them have been key factors in rejuvenating the band’s live performances in the last year or so.
EODM sets don’t seem to vary too much when they’re playing opening slots and this show was no different, fortunately, they have a good sized repertoire of to-the-point, crowd-pleasing bangers. While they’re a great headliner, the Eagles Of Death Metal are likely the perfect opening band for QOTSA and it’s odd that it’s taken this long for the two bands to play so many consecutive dates together. Understandably, there is a lot of crossover between the fan-bases for the two bands and while Queens die-hards might have initially gotten behind EODM they have since grown a well deserved avid following of their own.
After just a couple of hard-hitting numbers from their first two albums respectively Father Badass already had the packed crowd dancing and cheering in unison. Jesse followed with his typical stage banter wherein he proclaims his genuine adoration and appreciation for his fans in this particular city. Cheers were elicited at varying points in the evening for the band members, the crowd, and for Boots Electric himself as the set was peppered with tried and true anecdotal stories of Hughes’ reflections on Canada and Vancouver in particular.
A well rounded selection of songs from EODM’s four LPs followed including the recent set staple of the Bowie cover Moonage Daydream from the Ziggy Stardust album which really allowed Ino a chance to solo and show the audience he was up to the task of filling Davey Jo’s shoes for the evening. As always, Speaking In Tongues closed out the set with the audience dancing, ass shaking, cheering, and begging for more as Hughes and Vee squared off trading licks leading into the final bombastic verse of the song. If you’re not knowing, I’m here to let you know, the packed house on this hot BC Day Weekend was now thoroughly and expertly warmed up for the Queens Of The Stone Age.
I Only Want You
Don’t Speak (I Came To Make A Bang!)
Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn)
I Love You All The Time
I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)
Speaking In Tongues
A Queens Of The Stone Age show in or around Vancouver is a pretty big deal on its own, in the last decade they have played Vancouver just 3 times with another 3 performances split between Victoria and the 2013 Squamish Festival. Having spent much time clamoring for good tickets for seats at seated venues (10am browser refresh refresh refresh anyone?), to travelling around our fine province and to a few states abroad; I have gone to greater lengths over the years to see this band play live than I have for any other (EODM would rank a close second). While I have briefly met various members of the band on occasion in my past 13 shows, the opportunity to have a beer and bullshit with these guys beforehand, while slightly forced and awkward, was nonetheless probably a once in a lifetime experience. The band was gracious, amicable, and patient in taking the time to talk and take photos with the mix of media and contest winners who made up the 15 or so that were lucky enough to be there. By the time we filed out, just in time for the first songs of EODM’s set, my mind was already blown. Thank-you Mighty Beard, thank-you Aurora Illumination Series.
QOTSA do tend to lean on many of the same tried and true staples from their lengthy back catalogue but they also enjoy the luxury of dusting off deeper cuts from that ever-growing canon from show to show. Taking no prisoners this evening they opened with the penultimate titular track from 2002’s Songs For The Deaf starting eerily with Mikey Shoes’ bass-line and slowly building layers of guitars into the pounding juxtaposition of Josh Homme’s smooth vocals punctuated by Shoes’ anguished screams. Jon Theodore’s bass drum count soon led next into Do It Again, another SFTD barn-burner that quickly fired up the audience fist pumping and yelling “HEY!” in unison as Baby Duck vocals continued to soar from centre stage. Allowing the audience a brief respite, Homme took a moment to woo the crowd and remark upon what a unique night we were having reminding us to let go and enjoy the experience.
Feet Don’t Fail Me, the slick album opener from last years Villains LP, followed next in their set layered in the guitar work of multi-instrumentalists Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita. This album, like a few others in the late Queens library, has definitely grown on me after having some time to digest it. The swinging danceable tempos continued into lead single The Way You Used To Do to which found Homme in full Ginger Elvis mode swaying and crooning while seemingly caught under the same spell as much of the audience. All around me I saw an assortment of huge grins, raised arms, and wide eyes fixated collectively on a band that is likely the favourite of just about everyone in the room. A good selection of numbers spanning the previous albums followed, Era Vulgaris era dance-rock rarity Misfit Love was a definite high point of the set as was funky EV album opener Turnin’ On The Screw. The inclusion of the older and infrequently played In The Fade was another real treat and is arguably one of the most beautiful songs QOTSA have ever released; Hangin’ Tree, also formerly sung by the great Mark Lanegan, would follow later in the set between more current offerings. As is the case with a lot of older Queens tracks, Homme takes over lead vocal duties and evolves the songs, much like the band, into something that is now his very own.
With more full-length albums since the acclaimed Songs For The Deaf LP than before it, QOTSA has since developed new all-time fan favourites that bring the house down. As the Queens began to close out this amazing evening they jumped into one of weirdest, funkiest, and most loved “new” numbers in their stockpile of songs – Smooth Sailing from 2013’s Like Clockwork. Fans new and old have gravitated to the chunky bouncing bass and robotic alien guitar leads of this song since its inception. The audience around me all “a little bit nonchalant but dancing” grooved along with the band and sang lyrics verbatim back to Homme while bodies seethed and swayed closer to the stage. Little Sister proved the lone excerpt from Lullabies To Paralyze as the false finisher to this evening’s set. This left QOTSA’s premier self-titled LP, sadly, as the only overlooked era in the set.
While the band warmly thanked the audience and briefly exited the stage for break the crowd did not let up on their incessant cheering and adoration that they hurled from all around the Commodore towards the front of the room. Minutes later one of the greatest rock acts of this century returned to the now dimly lit stage. Once again Michael Shuman’s bassline slowly led us into QOTSA’s standard hard hitting drum destroyer and finale in Song For The Dead. Though absolutely nobody should have any doubts on Jon Theodore’s prowess behind the kit given his previous resume, if you ever needed convincing that he belongs among the highest echelons of Queens drummers aside Dave Grohl then this is the song that does it. Following the raucous drum intro that leads into the swaying dark grooves and stop-and-go guitar fills, this aptly place finale consistently erupts the room into a sweaty frenzy of headbanging, moshing, bedlam when it finishes. Spent, exhausted, and elated fans stand gobsmacked in the Commodore and the band and audience bid each other good night in a wall of applause that doesn’t let up until long after the house lights come back on.
Song For The Deaf
Do It Again
Feet Don’t Fail Me
The Way You Used To Do
If I Had A Tail
The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret
No One Knows
The Evil Has Landed
In The Fade
My God Is The Sun
Turnin’ On The Screw
Song For The Dead
After many years and many, many shows I definitely hesitate to use the absolute of “best” to describe a concert experience but in this scenario how could I not? To see not just one, but two, of my very favourite bands coincidentally for the 14th time each and still be blown away is an amazing feat. To see my favourite contemporary arena-level band play a club-sized venue for free and to be given the opportunity to meet them all, even briefly, beforehand made for an incredible night. The Aurora Illumination Concert Series involved many more FREE shows across the country this summer and beyond recognition and visibility for the Aurora brand, they have certainly gotten my profound appreciation in return. God save the Queens Of The Stone Age.