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ACL Fest review: Queens of the Stone Age at ACL Live

Joe Gross

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 4, 2013

Since slapping together the first incarnation of the hard rock band Queens of the Stone Age in 1996, Queens singer/leader/guitarist/sole constant member/very tall guy Josh Homme has been turning a certain kind of minimalism into a certain kind of maximalism.

His riffs are usually simple and circular, the music often ovoid in shape, big guitars and sometimes keyboards around. The maximalism comes in when he has three guitars playing tiny variations on those riffs, leads and solos popping out of the tune and then sliding back in.

Homme’s nickname for these sort of loping riffs is “robot rock” and he has always seemed torn between being the leader of a song band or a groove band. His records veer between both and both sides were on display Thursday night at ACL Live when the band taped a set for the Austin City Limits television show.

The quintent — Homme, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, guitarist/keyboardish Dean Fertita, bassist Michael Shuman and newly minted drummer Jon Theodore (ex-Mars Volta) — cranked though a rock solid hour and a half of maximalist music, reaching back to their 2002 breakout album “Songs for the Deaf” and playing a large amount of material from this year’s “…Like Clockwork.”

Opening with “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire,” the band, all in non-matching variations of black, looked dropped in from various Goth acts, especially Van Leeuwen, whose floppy hair screamed My Chemical Romance cover band. The only exception was Theodore, who looked like he just walked in from off the beach. Theodore is a unique, gifted drummer and a brilliant addition to a band whose membership Homme keeps in flux.

Theodore, who has to do much less drum frippery than in the complicated Mars Volta, is equally adept as what were Dave Grohl’s hard-hitting part on the hit song “No One Knows” and loopier-yet-equally-powerful parts from this year’s “My God is the Sun,” the almost-power-balladish “I Sat By the Ocean” and the new album’s excellent, thudding title track. The crowd loved the cowbell-driven “Little Sister” and the classic rocky “Make It Wit Chu,” resplendant with Homme’s most solo-ish solos of the night. Other highlights included the new “Smooth Sailing,” which highlighted Theodore’s deft, semi-funky style.

Well, as funky these guys get. Robots can only get so funky. But they do know how to groove.