Queens of the Stone Age melted many a face at Rolling Stone‘s first SXSW 2011 showcase on March 16th, playing a headlining set that stretched well into the wee hours of the next morning. But first came four opening acts who got the crowd at Austin’s La Zona Rosa good and ready for the main event. (Watch video of the performances and interviews with the bands above – along with a chat with the Foo Fighters.)
First up: Beast Make Bomb, an eager young coed quartet from Brooklyn whose hook-filled punk tunes proved hard to resist. Lead singer Ceci Gomez fired off snarky lyrics about prostitutes and drunks in distinctly Karen O-ish tones over assorted speedy guitar grooves. Better still were a few moody mid-tempo numbers scattered throughout the band’s set.
Around 9 p.m., J Mascis took the stage. With his intent expression and silver tresses, he resembled an indie-rock mage. Sitting there all alone with a single electric guitar, he wandered through folky selections from his just-released LP Several Shades of Why as well as vintage Dinosaur Jr. oldies like “Little Fury Things” – plus a surprising cover of Edie Brickell’s 1988 cut “Circle.” Many of the songs featured Mascis soloing extravagantly over looped jangly riffs, a hypnotic technique that filled the venue with as much guitar noise as any of the full bands on the night’s bill.
Next, at 10 p.m., were L.A.’s Mini Mansions. The trio is led by Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman, but he is about the only thing the two acts have in common. Mini Mansions make psychedelic, slightly eerie pop-rock with strong echoes of the Zombies, the Kinks and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Their bright-hued melodies felt almost twee at times – hardly a term anyone would apply to the Queens. Watery organ parts and sustained harmonies abounded in their set, which peaked with a spookily deconstructed cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.”
La Zona Rosa went wild at 11 p.m. for hometown heroes the Black Angels. The Austin-based drone-rock quintet were in their element on stage, building up huge waves of reverbed guitar and gnarly vocals. The band often reached a frenzied, trance-like state on songs like “Telephone” (from last year’s Phosphene Dream), “Better Off Alone” and “Young Men Dead” (both from their 2006 debut, Passover). By the time their set ended, around midnight, it seemed like the crowd would have been happy to hear another hour from the Black Angels.
Last and most certainly not least came Queens of the Stone Age’s headlining set, which centered on their 1998 debut. Read David Fricke’s review of that here.