Already making his second plea for fans to love one another just eight songs into his set, Josh Homme must have realized he wasn’t coming off like the singer of a thundering, brawny hard-rock band Saturday night at Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
“You’re probably thinking, ‘Josh, you sound like a hippie,’ ” the Queens of the Stone Age frontman suddenly interjected in his peace-touting speech. “You’re [bleeping] right!”
Last seen in town leading punk icon Iggy Pop’s backing band at an unforgettable Northrop show last year, Homme has always been a bit of an unlikely hero of the metal world — a stylishly coifed, athletic-looking redheaded rocker from the California desert who preaches the benefits of meditation.
More than most musicians, though, QOTSA’s 44-year-old bandleader is probably thinking about violence at concerts over the past year. In February, he joined fellow Eagles of Death Metal co-founder Jesse Hughes for the band’s triumphant return to the Bataclan in Paris, where gunmen killed 103 fans at an EODM concert three months earlier (Homme wasn’t touring with the band at that time).
Whether or not that world event altered Homme’s outlook on his main band’s latest tour — how could it not? — Homme seemed hellbent on making Saturday’s nearly two-hour performance at the rank Wilkins Auditorium a thing of beauty. He smiled infectiously and engaged the crowd like a motivational speaker. He led his band through a wonderfully ugly, gnarly, twisted batch of songs that offered equal parts release and rejoicing for the sold-out, cramped-but-lively crowd of 4,500 fans.
QOTSA began its set with a coolheaded midtempo song, “If I Had a Tail,” which kept fans in a sort of holding pattern for the first five minutes of the set until things finally went ballistic in the fast and ferocious oldie “Monsters in the Parasol.” Then the band cashed in early on one of its best-known and rowdiest tunes, “My God Is the Sun.”
With their latest album, “Villains,” Homme & Co. added a little extra groove and ’70s swagger to their crunchy sound with help from “Uptown Funk” producer Mark Ronson. Those subtle twists paid off early on, when fans more likely to headbang or mosh did something close to actual dancing in “The Way You Used to Do.”
Later, the dark new “Domesticated Animals” sounded unusually bright with its boom-bap-like rhythms and gritty energy. Former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore — sporting a Minnesota Wild T-shirt — earned MVP status in those tunes.
By contrast, the new album’s final track, “Villains of Circumstance,” found Homme coming out from behind the wall of guitars and bashing beats and turning into a tender-voiced lounge singer. “There’s no magic bullet / No cure for pain,” he bellowed emotionally. Paired with the equally dour but dramatic “I Appear Missing,” the third quarter of QOTSA’s set had some of the least rowdy but most deeply affecting moments.
The parts of the show with the full-velocity rock mayhem were great as usual, too. A twofer tear through “I Feel Like a Millionaire” and “No One Knows” hit the mark early on. Then “Sick Sick Sick” and “Go With the Flow” brought the energy back up to blood-rushing levels just before the encore.
Due back in town Dec. 3 to headline the 93X Nutcracker concert at the Palace Theatre, QOTSA took the wise approach to besting Wilkins’ Auditorium’s notorious acoustics by just playing loud as hell, which worked.
Amusingly, both QOTSA and opening act Royal Blood — a similarly hard-cranking British duo that truly warmed up the crowd — ended their sets with songs with four or five different false endings; each time it looked like the band had finally exhausted all riffs and possibilities, the music kicked back into gear with a vengeance. In the case of Queens’ finale, “A Song for the Dead,” the gimmick played perfectly, since the deafened audience really didn’t want it to end.