Heavy for the Boys, Sweet for the Girls

There’s no denying the impact that Queens of the Stone Age — a band best known for revolutionizing the stoner-rock genre, skewering nearly every corner of the modern music industry and populating entire songs with laundry lists of illegal substances — have had on the rock ‘n’ roll ecosystem over the course of its 18-year career.

QOTSA emerged in 1996 from the ashes of cultish desert rock band Kyuss, which California native Josh Homme had started when he was a teenager. While stoners the world over latched onto Kyuss’ panoramic crunch, Homme was quick to take QOTSA in different directions: brutish, metal-leaning riffs mixed with irreverent cosmic boogie, dystopian space rock and macho muscle that occasionally gives way, via falsetto crooning and multitracked harmonies, to a rarely explored feminine side.

As Homme said in 2000, “Rock should be heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls. That way everyone’s happy and it’s more of a party.”

On QOTSA’s 1998’s self-titled debut, Homme worked out his post-Kyuss demons, but it was 2001’s Rated R that really established QOTSA as its own independent entity. Longtime friend Nick Oliveri provided a hell-raising, hard-partying contrast to Homme’s strait-laced vibe, which was immediately evident on album opener “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” — the only lyrics are “nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol,” spiked with a “c-c-c-c-c-cocaine” chorus repeated over and over with bludgeoning regularity.

That controversial two-minutes-plus attention-grabber overshadowed the impressively deep cuts and sustained sonic experimentation of Rated R and its follow-up, Songs for the Deaf, both of which sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Those albums and subsequent tours also featured a stacked guest appearance list, including Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford and Nirvana drummer/Foo Fighters impresario Dave Grohl.

Homme’s public firing of Oliveri in 2004, however, squandered much of the band’s momentum. Homme blamed Oliveri’s uncontrollable substance abuse; Oliveri accused Homme of megalomania. Either way, QOTSA’s public persona suffered, as Homme cycled through band members while the contemporary music world raced to embrace all things EDM.

Homme took time off to focus on his rock band Eagles of Death Metal before returning to QOTSA in 2006 with Lullabies to Paralyze, a solid album that was unfortunately plagued by questions about Oliveri’s absence. Many fans consider 2007’s Era Vulgaris QOTSA’s creative low point, a nadir which perhaps drove Homme to shelve the project for a few more years in favor of the rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, with Grohl and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

Then, in 2010, Homme nearly climbed the proverbial stairway to heaven himself. Suffering from asphyxiation after routine knee surgery, his heart stopped for several seconds, and doctors had to use a defibrillator to revive him. Homme was laid up for months afterward, and in several soul-searching recent interviews, the newly mature musician, with a wife and kids at home, said he considered scrapping his music career entirely.

Ultimately, however, the near-death experience only strengthened QOTSA’s resolve. The result is the epic, emotionally dense 2013 album … Like Clockwork. At times more subdued than past work, and more violently careening at other times, Clockwork is the first QOTSA record not released on a major label in 13 years, the first to feature a reunion with Oliver — and the first to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Listen to “I Appear Missing” just once. 
You’ll get it.

That natural evolution — resilience buoyed by mainstream success and forged in the face of challenges both personal and professional — is the reason QOTSA has moved effortlessly from the California hinterlands to the hallowed stage of The Florida Theatre.

“For 20 years, all I’ve been chasing is the feeling I used to get playing generator parties with Kyuss in the desert,” Homme told Spin last October. “That’s where I learned the right way to play — not for money and not to get famous. … I just want to make music and make art and make videos. Just don’t interrupt me. Don’t censor me. Don’t stop me. Let me be.” o