Queens of the Stone Age ringleader Josh Homme kept glancing over his shoulder last Saturday night at the Paradise, smiling the broad and unrestrained smile of a man who couldn’t believe his own eyes. Yes, that was indeed Dave Grohl bashing away on the drum kit while chomping furiously on a wad of bubblegum. And A Perfect Circle’s Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar. And, every now and again, former Screaming Trees howler Mark Lanegan gripping the mike stand with both hands. Grohl is due back in the studio soon to finish the new Foo Fighters album; Lanegan, who seems to be something less than a fully integrated member of the band but more than just a special guest, has another solo disc to make. Which means the line-up that hit the Paradise is unlikely to stick around long enough to support the forthcoming third QOTSA disc, Songs for the Deaf (Interscope), which Grohl has described as "my favorite album that I’ve ever played drums on." So never mind that the current Queens are too good to last: for one short tour, at least, they’re the kings of rock.
It took them a few songs to get up to full speed. Homme and long-time bassist Nick Oliveri traded off on lead vocals, with one of Oliveri’s new songs coming across like Bleach-era Nirvana. By "You Would Know," one of the standout tracks on the debut Queens disc, everyone was warming to the task. But it wasn’t until five songs in, when Lanegan strolled casually from backstage for Deaf’s title track, that everything clicked.
With the exception of a one-off tour with Mike Watt in the mid ’90s, Grohl hasn’t played drums in Boston since the Nevermind days, so this was a glimpse of what all the fuss is about. He handled Queens’ rhythmic tics and stutters with aplomb, but it was in the flats that he truly came alive, galloping straightaway, unbounded, hell-for-leather. He was clearly enjoying himself. "Songs for the Deaf" (if that is indeed the title; it has also been referred to as "Songs for the Dead" and was on the set list as "Dead Eye") began and ended with a headlong, almost grindcore-strength intensity. It’s the most evil-sounding song in their catalogue, and Lanegan sang it in an even grittier grade of his gravelly baritone, like a (White) Zombified Jim Morrison.
They followed it up with another Deaf track, "Hanging Tree," a Jesus Lizard–style stomp with a more typical Lanegan vocal, elegiac and almost waltz-time: it might be their "Strange Fruit." Homme’s new songs, "No One Knows" and "Go with the Flow," and Oliveri’s new "Gonna Leave You" were catchier and more concise than anything on 2000’s Rated R (Interscope); and with Grohl holding down the battery, old favorites "Walkin’ on the Sidewalks" (with Lanegan on vocals), "Tension Head," and "Regular John" took on a renewed urgency. Lanegan came back once more in the encore for an even more impressive "God." A bit later Homme clarified the order of the universe: "Dave Grohl is Jesus," he said, smiling. "Nick is God." By whatever name, here’s hoping this holy trinity stages a second coming.