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Better Living Through Chemistry: QOTSA @ The Pageant April 5th

by Justin Price

We try our best as MOTH to use our voice in the service of artists that might be overlooked by the general public. It’s been a joy espousing praise upon US English, Raymilland, Phaseone, Teresajenee, Julianna Barwick… and the list will continue to grow, I assure you. Saint Louis has now become a safe haven for quality, local music that makes it easy for those in our position to write about it in so many wonderful, complex words. But, I need to take a few of those words to talk about a national tour making a stop in Saint Louis that, truthfully, more than a few of you will glance over in your latest issue of the Riverfront Times. This is my argument as to why you should take the opportunity to see Queens of the Stone Age at The Pageant on April 5th.

Okay. I know many of you are probably thinking, “Really? Queens of the Stone Age?”.  Bear with me for just a moment.

I’ve been a huge fan of Queens of the Stone Age for over a decade and counting. I was introduced to the band on that short bridge of awkwardness that is middle school discovery and high school ‘THIS-IS-THE-GREATEST-BAND-EVER’ hyperbole. Needless to say, QOTSA was the ‘I-will-commence-kicking-open-the-door-to-your-mind’ moment that so many novice guitar players have handed to them in TDK cassette and CD cases by fellow music fanatics. I’d heard the band mentioned before in music and guitar magazines, but I have to admit that I initially didn’t make it past the provocative cover of their self-titled debut album (more on that later). Rather, I took the unintentional (but inevitable) shortcut to fandom after buying their tour-de-force sophomore album Rated R (2000) from my local Slackers in Saint Charles. There’s no greater feeling than almost blowing the speakers out of my sister’s Honda Civic with the now-classic 1-2 punch of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”. It was an absolutely revelation. I’d never heard such sharp hooks filed down into sharp, sinister, vicious hard-rock packages that you would surely cut your hand if you could run it across the edge of these songs.

QOTSA was my key to understanding why kids at school always thought that Led Zeppelin, Floyd, or insertyourownclassicrockbandofchoicehere____________ were the GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME. I didn’t get it. I always said that I would take Fleetwood Mac or The Beatles over those bands any day of the week because it was about the songs, man. But now, I get it: When you have a group of guys firing on all cyclinders with their instruments, and you’re locked into a groove, there can’t be anything better than that in the moment. Combined with strong songwriting, and you’re in the stratosphere. That was “Better Living through Chemistry” for me: Those rising “aaaaaahhhhhhhhhs” behind the blissed-out guitar solos panning from speaker-to-speaker are still absolutely riveting. I’ve never done a drug in my life, but I can clearly understand why in the last45 years kids in the suburbs play records like this in constant, inebriated rotation in their basements.

They’re now an intergal feature as 1 of my big 4 (Radiohead, The Deftones, and Wilco) who proved that magic is indeed possible above-ground along with critical and commercial success. Every record of theirs has been subsequentially weirder, and better, than the previous one. Josh Homme might actually be the first auetur that I’d ever come across and actually understand their art. The indiosyncratic songwriting, the barbed, de-tuned guitars, the falsetto vocal work sitting oddly comfortable in the middle of sledgehammered guitars and brutual, primitive tom-tom destroying drum work. This made sense to me. It was a way to reconcile everything I’d ever loved about music in one fell swoop. Homme’s an artist that’s in complete control over his craft, and he’s had no difficulty finding new ways to expound and improve on it over the course of his career, all without taking a huge left-turn stylistically. Their last studio album, Era Vulgaris (2007), is my personal favorite. With QOTSA recorded output, we go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole that is Josh Homme without feeling slighted in the least bit: It’s a great album you want, that’s what you’re going to get, but only on my terms.

They only other time I’ve had the privilige of seeing them live was with …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead @ The Pageant September 20, 2002.  Their live show was absolutely killer that night, and their consistency in live performance, coupled with their ability to entertain to the fullest extent, makes their latest stop in Saint Louis an event that’s absolutely essential. It’s a special one, too: They are going to play their debut album in its entirety, along with other rarities, b-sides, and fan favorites. That first album doesn’t suffer from that formative feeling that plagues so many debuts. It’s all there: the de-tuned crunch, punishing drums, falsetto, etc. It’s going to be an awesome introduction for those who may have unintentionally overlooked it. Believe me, you’ll see me there grinning from ear-to-ear among the assembled masses swaying along to the melodies of QOTSA at one of the finest institutions in Saint Louis -The Pageant.

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