Sorry if you didn’t attend these shows. Good on you if you did. The Negative Guest List is going to be a new monthly column looking back on the month that was in Columbus live music. Here’s the first installment. Three sold out concerts that should have been firmly on your radar.
Queens of the Stone Age/Royal Blood (9.12 @ Express Live)
It was Royal Blood who provided the “calm” before the storm, that was figuratively a roaring set from Queens of the Stone Age, as well as the literal downpour that only added fuel to the frenzy. The duo of Matt Kerr and Ben Thatcher — of Brighton, England — possess a veritable rags to riches, or garage to amphitheaters, story. Math is futile in music criticism, but it works for Royal Blood. As in, what do you get when you cross the White Stripes with the Black Keys and raise that creation on ’80s hair metal and pop anthems. For two guys, they make much more racket than the aforementioned guitar and drums iconoclasts. The crowd appeared to be genuinely in love with this band, besides my half-hearted assessment. What they do is catchy and loud, and Kerr, switching from guitar to bass and being as charismatic as they come is a rock star in the making, but it just felt as if nothing stuck. I’ve heard it all before. Still, it’s hard to fault their resourcefulness and penchant to make rock radio great again. Too bad they had to open for the Queens.
About the time Queens of the Stone Age took the stage the rain had commenced, and it was pouring hard. That didn’t stop the band from affirming why they are the best in the business when it comes to putting on a “hard” rock show, with all the emotional bent of rebellious teenagers and the cathartic aggression of war-torn troubadours. Halfway through I proclaimed them to be the best American band of the last two decades and on this night they proved that statement to be correct.
They took a time machine through their greatest hits, which was tailored to all tastes from the band’s many moods, “Make It Wit Chu” — for the ultra-stoner Ween hang-oners, “No One Knows” for the mainstream fans, “Avon” for those who have been around since the grinding, desert daze, “Leg of Lamb” for the introspective, guitar-magnified, weirdoes.
But the new album — and a wide selection from …Like Clockwork — dig deep into the dark psyche of Josh Homme. Meditative in the form of nuanced guitar freak outs, perhaps he’s the guy who came up with the formula. Surely if you cycle through the drought of Queen’s material, when he was sound tracking Guitar Hero and middling through his first wave, a bad look for making history, you’ll find hits, but this last duo of comeback albums stretches into a new abyss of performance and metal malleability.
When they finally ended the night, delving into their latest “dance” phase, “The Way You Used to Do,” the crowd was drenched but happy, and actually “dancing” to a metal band. It was glorious to say the least.
Wire (9.18 @ Ace of Cups)
If there were one band I ascribe to shaping who I am now, it’s Wire. Colin Newman and company taught me punk could be art and that art-punk could be both sugary sweet and obtuse without dulling the edge. While I should have planned ahead for the sold-out event, I snagged a ticket last minute, and was instantly invigorated. I spent most of that day blaring Pink Flag out the window, wishing on a quasar they’d come roaring into town in a nostalgic buzz.
No luck. Any search through recent set-lists revealed Wire does not revel in the past. They’re a future band, always have been. However, they did start with “Ahead” (again that motto of movement), a stunning, shoegazing, mid-‘80s pop song, which is in close relation to Wire’s current M.O. It was a nice surprise, but besides that and a rousing “Three Girl Rumba,” their set consisted of material from their last decade of under heard albums. Still, seeing Wire in any capacity is a treat, an honor, you’re in the presence of those who broke punk. Despite not hearing the classics, their vibe was continually taut, and melancholic, with electronic beats battling organic drums, and metallic guitars heavily manipulated and snaking through the layers. It was euphoric at times, boring when it lagged, and a huge hole for those who missed it.
Big Thief (9.21 @ Ace of Cups)
Something was afoot when Brooklyn’s Big Thief took the stage in Columbus. Noticeably, guitarist Buck Meek was missing from the line-up. There were no extraneous guitar trips as exhibited on their albums. There was a lack of atmosphere from that side of the stage. There was a void to be certain.
But anyone who’s been hooked on the young band since hearing them for the first time would know that the center of Big Thief’s universe is the voice and songs of Adrienne Lenker. She could play two strings acoustically and the crowd would still hang on every word. Lenker always wears her heart on her sleeve – bloody and still beating – and on this night she was nearly in tears at the absence of her partner, the aforementioned Meek. It was heavy, emotional, full of peaks and valleys. There was a void to be certain.
In that void though, Lenker filled the space. The triumphant “Real Love” was a call to arms, in the center of the set, confronting her obvious sadness with a rage-filled solo that was Neil Young-level destruction, loud and atonal. Elsewhere, the road-weary band showed their pro chops, playing though songs like “Masterpiece” and “Mythological Beauty” as if they’ve been Top 40 hits for years. There is an advantage to plying your trade every minute of every day – you start to sound like you know how to adapt to any situation with zero effort and all the passion. Had you not known about Meek beforehand, you wouldn’t have known any better, as they Lenker is always in her element.