Many years ago – in the last millennium – I trudged through the Ottawa snow with my sister to see two bands that had dared to tour Canada in winter play the tiny stage of Zaphod Beeblebrox. Despite being unfashionably late, the show hadn’t sold out the venue’s 150-person capacity. The first band on the bill, Alabama combo The Quadrajets, had failed to make it past the border, but the headliner was just kicking things off.

Back then the Queens of the Stone Age’s lineup included steel guitar player Dave Catching; if memory serves Scream singer Pete Stahl was also on hand. After the show the band eschewed the usual retreat to the dressing room and headed directly across the dance floor to the bar.

Almost a decade later, everything’s different, bar frontman Joshua Homme and a lot of drinking. The band wisely eschewed a winter tour of the frozen north, instead arriving in Canada’s capital on a balmy May day. The closest they came to ice (their drinks excepted) was the stuff that normally coated the floor of the Ottawa Civic Centre – like most large show venues in Canada, it doubles as a hockey arena.

The stage itself was at ‘centre ice’, with half the rink blocked off as a makeshift backstage and the rest serving as the stomping ground for a diverse band of show-goers: Well-powdered goths, spikey-haired punks, bearded heshers, indie kids, country rockers in ersatz Nudie shirts ... all ages from pre-teen to late 60's.

The tickets promised the show would start at 8 p.m., and unusually for rock’n’roll were as good as their word.

Icelandic outfit Mugison got opening honours. Signed to Mike Patton’s Ipecac label in North America, one could hear why he had been selected to round out the bill. Mugison has a dedication to riff rock and a peculiar sense of humour (Exhibit A, a song titled ‘Jesus Is A Good Name to Moan’). He records as a solo artist, but for his supporting slot on the Queens of the Stone Age tour he had a guitarist, drummer, bassist and keyboardist/trombonist alongside him. The bearded, cowboy-hatted performer and his cohorts got a very sympathetic reception from a crowd that was almost entirely unfamiliar with his music. I thought it was okay: Not super memorable, and his occasional lapse into cookie-monster vocals I could have done without, but it was a pleasant way to spend 45 minutes. I can see him being much more versatile and interesting in a smaller setting.

There was a brief bit of standing about while the roadies unveiled the chandelier/discoball hybrids that decorate Queens of the Stone Age's stage set.

I looked behind me to see the crowd had now filled out the floor and the stands – almost a capacity crowd in the 5,000-seat half of the arena. I looked forward to find myself staring at the shapely bottom of a young woman perched on the shoulder of two heavily-muscled showgoers in front of me. Fortunately there was still space to move to the left.

A few minutes past 9 p.m. and the Queens of the Stone Age appeared to a mighty roar from the crowd. Some may gripe about the shifting ranks, but one can’t really fault Joshua Homme’s choice of sidemen. A pinstripe-clad Troy Van Leeuwen sent licks spiraling out with aplomb, bassist Michael Shuman flipped his hair about and kicked the air, while muscleman drummer Joey Castillo produced a mighty thunder behind the drumkit. (Guitarist-keyboardist Dean Fertita kept a lower profile). Homme himself was in good voice, but before things really got underway, there was just one thing to establish: “By the end of the show, I’m going to be drunk” Homme told the audience before dispatching the first vodka of the night.

Then it was onto a sharp run through the band’s now voluminous catalogue: The show seemed heavily weighted to the "middle era": ‘Go With The Flow’, ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’ ‘Regular John’, ‘First It Giveth’ ‘Do It Again’ and other ‘Songs for The Deaf’ and ‘R’ tunes bulked out the playlist (or perhaps they were just the most memorable offerings). There was some later stuff, including ‘Burn The Witch’ and ‘Little Sister’ from ‘Lullabyes to Paralyze’ and the lead tune from their new album, ‘Turnin' On The Screw’. They also played a couple of tunes from the first 'Man's Ruin' album. "I know a lot of you don't have it," declared Homme “but it's pretty damn good." The band then proceeded to kick out ‘How To Handle A Rope’.

There wasn’t much banter from on stage except when Homme told someone who threw a shirt on stage that "I don't need your underwear - I already know you're full of shit." Other than that, the crowd was fairly well behaved, with a few youngsters amiably crowd-surfing their way into the waiting arms of a pair of security guards at the front of the stage. At one point a sea of lighters illuminated the crowd while a sparkling backdrop mirrored them with its own glittering pinpricks.

It being Mother's Day, they also dedicated a song to everyone's mother ‘Make It Wit Chu’ - of course they had the audience sing the chorus. Leeuwen and Homme also staged a guitar duel. After Leeuwen’s final sortie, Homme told the crowd ‘I do have an answer, for that, but first ...” more vodka!

A steady string of distilled potato notwithstanding, Homme was still focused as the show wound to its conclusion. “I’m still sobre ... that’s bullshit!” The only solution: More songs and more vodka. Then he drank a few more cups. He's a big guy, and I suspect he's got a fairly high tolerance for alcohol. They finished with a two-song encore and a show-ending ‘No One Knows’.

About my only complaint would the damn strobe lighting. I don't mind my ears hurting after a show, but my eyes ?

A happy crowd emptied out of the venue, stalking out onto the street, or heading to their cars. As I walked home, a succession of crowded subcompacts hurtled past, the sound of freshly purchased Queens of the Stone Age albums blaring from their stereos.













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