Queens of the Stone Age began their first U.S. gig in three years – in Austin, Texas on March 16th, the formal opening night of SXSW – with the dirty heated throb of “Regular John,” the opening track on their self-titled debut album, released in 1998. The song was nearly all pulse – hard and persistent, even in the chorus when founding singer-guitarist Josh Homme hit croon control over the armored-Kraftwerk drone – and so was the rest of the set. For their headlining appearance at Rolling Stone‘s SXSW showcase at La Zona Rosa, Homme and his current Queens – guitarist Michael Shuman, guitarist-keyboard player Dean Fertita, bassist Troy Van Leeuwen and drummer Joey Castillo – played the entire record, resurrecting it with steady rolling menace. The album is eleven years old, but the Queens played it like it was a brand new hellbound train.
Recorded in less than three weeks and first issued by a label run by Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, Queens of the Stone Age is re-released in deluxe form later this month by Homme’s own Rekords Rekords imprint. The album is considered an early hallmark of stoner metal, but that seemed like faint praise in performance, as the band hit the hard and exact rhythm changes in “Avon” and Homme and Shuman doubled the slow barking distortion in “Walkin’ on the Sidewalks.” There was nothing baked about the grizzled-Zeppelin aggression of “You Would Know” or the precisely bent instrumental math of “Hispanic Impressions,” based on the jump and swerve of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.” The Queens actually improved the 1998 record by resequencing it for the stage, adding a ’98 EP track, “The Bronze” (with whooping synthesizer and a frantic Homme guitar solo) in the middle of the running order and closing not with the mechanical R&B of “I Was a Teenage Handmodel” but the trance-metal menace of “You Can’t Quit Me Baby.”
There were a half-dozen encores of more recent vintage, including “Go With the Flow” from 2002’s Songs for the Deaf. Homme even took a request from a woman down in front: “Make It Wit Chu” from 2007’s Era Vulgaris. But the meat and might of the night were that first LP. It is a history, going by this rendition, that bears repeating.