Queens of the Stone Age: an effortlessly sexy set from the US rock gods

QOTSA's Josh Homme
QOTSA's Josh Homme - Jim Dyson/Getty Images

“What an artist dies in me!” Nero bemoaned in AD68, bitterly condemning his fellow Romans for forcing him into exile, before bleeding to death by his own blade aged just 30.

It’s surely no coincidence that Josh Homme chose to title Queens of the Stone Age’s latest tour The End is Nero, after a few years also spent laying low: battling negative press around his divorce and his consequent custody battle with wife Brody Dalle, undergoing cancer treatment, and grieving the deaths of close friends Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters). But Homme, and the band, have certainly come back with a bang.

The Seattle rock band’s first record in six years, In Times New Roman…, was released in May: it’s their finest since 2007’s Era Vulgaris, bursting with unapologetic machismo and howling, guttural guitars, and is nominated for Best Rock Album at next year’s Grammys.

Powering through its fiery singles – lead Emotion Sickness, which transports Homme through various stages of pain and suffering before the fever broke and he was free to lead the crowd in the groovy chorus (“Don’t care for me / Baby, don’t care for me / Had to let her go”), and the Bowie-esque Carnavoyeur, which really allowed Michael Shuman’s pulsing bass to shine – and almost three decades of other hits at London’s O2 Arena last night, QOTSA proved exactly why they’ve been able to capture such a unique space in rock. They’re the only band equally popular among indie and metal lovers, as comfortable headlining stages at Glastonbury as Download. And why? Homme’s smooth, syrupy vocals brimming with sex appeal, his fingers effortlessly teasing sonic grooves out of his electric guitar certainly have something to do with it.

The rest of the band – Shuman, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, drummer Jon Theodore and multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita – each bring their own dark magic, with one of the night’s highlights coming courtesy of Theodore’s extended drum solo during God Is in the Radio, from seminal album Song for the Deaf. Performed as a tribute to Lanegan (who was still a part of QOTSA when it was released in 2002) it excitingly brought to life the swaggering desert rock that has made them megastars.

Bassist Michael Shuman at the O2 Arena
Bassist Michael Shuman at the O2 Arena - Gus Stewart/Redferns

Unsurprisingly, the fans went wildest for the classics: No One Knows, their furious, infinitely entertaining festival anthem that hasn’t aged a day since the turn of the millennium; lustful slow-burners Smooth Sailing and I Sat by the Ocean, from 2013’s commercial juggernaut …Like Clockwork (they like an ellipsis, can you tell?); triumphant closer Song for the Dead, the track which most perfectly encapsulates their stoner-tinged panache.

Performing in front of a glowing neon pyramid that seemed to rise from the depths of the O2’s stage like a relic from hell – or was it a polite request to Glastonbury bookers for a main stage slot, after their set at Worthy Farm this year was overshadowed by a small act called Elton John? – they have never sounded better. It takes a special band to bring such a soulless shell as the O2 to life; QOTSA, undoubtedly the best heavy rock band of their generation, were more than ready to meet the challenge.

Playing in Bournemouth tonight, then touring the UK and Ireland until Nov 22; qotsa.com/tour