Queens of the Stone Age Auckland review: Friends, food poisoning, and a whole lot of motherf***ers

Queens of the Stone Age are regularly hailed as one of the greatest live bands of their time - and on a balmy Thursday night in Auckland for their acclaimed The End is Nero tour, I understood why.   

Having interviewed frontman and founding member Josh Homme last month, I had an inkling of what to expect; he himself proclaimed their touring as the best it's ever been. But if there's one thing to know about Queens, it's to expect the unexpected - and get ready for one hell of a ride.   

If there's another thing to know about Queens, it's to leave your government name at the door. It doesn't matter who you are or what your name is, as you'll get a new one anyway - to be exclusively used in this sonic sanctum for one night only. The band's deafening, guitar-driven rock is not exactly conducive to chit-chats with your neighbours; the zealous fan next to me introduced himself as something that wasn't but rhymed with Gary, and after three failed attempts at lip-reading, that's who he became.   

"You're Gary now," I told him, which he accepted. In turn, Gary christened my father - an old rocker who is my permanent concert plus-one - as Steve, based on an apparent likeness to the Apple mogul. After several more beers, I too became Steve to Gary. The family resemblance must be strong.    

And then there was 'Tanya', the superfan who was summoned to the stage by none other than Josh Homme himself. The 50-year-old frontman has a habit of cherry-picking fans from the frenzied crowd, and 'Tanya' (real name Tammy Jenna) had caught his eye with her handmade sign. 

"Bring it to me", Homme commands, with the crowd dutifully passing the sign to the front of the stage.

"I don't know what her name is, but let's say it's f**king 'Tanya'," he says with a sly chuckle.

Her effort is rewarded: Homme announces, "Come f**king dance with me, you motherf**king beautiful couple" to 'Tanya' and her beau, before said couple is welcomed onto the side of the stage for the duration of the show.  

Josh Homme holding fan sign
Tanya - real name Tammy - had waited 10 years to hear 'I Appear Missing', which the band later incorporated into their set. Photo credit: Supplied / Tammy Jenna

And what a show it was. As soon as we stepped foot into Spark Arena, the energy was electric, the excitement palpable. The band has a dedicated fanbase that stretches back decades; some will have served the Queens since their formation in heroin-laced Seattle back in 1996. The connection that the band - and Homme in particular - has with the crowd is undeniable; a symbiotic relationship that feeds both artist and audience. And what better way to feed the fans than by kicking off the two-hour set with the 2002 anthem, 'No One Knows'.

With the stage swathed in a red glow, the pogoing crowd chants along like a legion of alt-rock apostles. 'No One Knows' does what any great opening song should do; rally the troops. Buckle up, baby, it's going to be a wild ride.

Queens of the Stone Age 'The End is Nero' tour at Auckland's Spark Arena, February 29, 2024
Photo credit: Supplied / Tom Grut

And despite much of the band being middle-aged (aside from 30-something bassist Mikey Shuman), the high-octane energy never faltered. The blistering guitar, explosive drumming and supersonic chemistry continued throughout 'The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret', 'Smooth Sailing', and the first nod to their new material, 'Paper Machete' from 2023's In Times New Roman, without a hint of fatigue. The same can't be said for me, a 26-year-old who enjoys being in bed by 10pm. 

A brief throwback to 'My God Is the Sun' followed, before 'Emotion Sickness' once again plunged the crowd into the delicious darkness of In Times New Roman. Fans whooped and hollered for 2013's 'I Sat by the Ocean', followed by 'Time & Place' and 'Burn the Witch', a composition dedicated to "Jack", who we can only assume was Mr Jack Black himself, following his headline-grabbing appearance at the Foo Fighters several weeks ago.  

Throughout the set, Homme also makes it clear that he loves New Zealand; a welcome sentiment after Blink-182's caustic remarks about the embattled Christchurch earlier this week. A brief shout-out to the bands who have recently played in Aotearoa - Foo Fighters and yes, the Jonas Brothers - or are soon to play - Blink-182 - saw a chorus of boos for the latter.

"It's so good to be back here," he crows. "You f**king c***s are amazing."  

Queens of the Stone Age 'The End is Nero' tour at Auckland's Spark Arena, February 29, 2024
Photo credit: Supplied / Tom Grut

Homme has a reputation for being a bit of a hard arse, but behind the profanity is a genuine charisma that is utterly captivating. He doesn't swear because he is a Rockstar™ and that's what Rockstars™ do; if anything, "motherf**ker" and "c***" are terms of endearment for his faithful fanbase. The abrasive commentary ("Don't touch me too much, or I'll beat the shit out of you") and profanity-laden remarks are just Homme being Homme. His fans know this, and they lap it up. He is simply magnetic; although the magnet repels as much as it attracts.

The band continued to rock through a steady stream of hits, each song as strong as the last, never missing a beat. You don't have to be a dedicated fan to appreciate the phenomenon that is Queens of the Stone Age; these are musicians at the top of their game, an incredibly tight unit whose musical chemistry is intrinsic, telepathic even. Their distinct sound is full of staccato rhythms to which timing is integral; one member's misstep could throw off the entire band. These are complicated songs, but the Queens are a well-oiled machine that performs without fault.   

Let's take a moment for the drummer, Jon Theodore. Despite "throwing up all day" due to a bad case of food poisoning, the 50-year-old gave it his all - smashing his drum set into next (leap) year. If the band is a tight ship, Theodore is their anchor.  

"It's not Covid, you assholes," Homme clarifies after revealing his drummer's delicate condition. "He's the baddest motherf**ker there is."

Queens of the Stone Age 'The End is Nero' tour at Auckland's Spark Arena, February 29, 2024
Photo credit: Supplied / Tom Grut

During 'Straight Jacket Fitting', Homme disappears from the stage and reappears amid the crowd. He enters the adoring audience, his path lit by the glow of phone cameras as he sings the refrain in a call-and-response. He greets a few fans, warns people not to touch him too much, and makes his way along the side of the stand as fans bask in his Rock God Glow™.   

This is a man who loves his fans; his appreciation (acerbic, yes, but appreciation nonetheless) peppers the performance in short bursts that have the crowd eating out of his hands. A fan in the front is singled out for their smile - "I love you, specifically" - as 'Tanya' and her partner enjoy the show from stage left. Other interactions occurred, but Gary was chewing my ear off at certain points, so I unfortunately can't recall all of them.

While the entire performance was a highlight in and of itself, 'I Wanna Make It Wit Chu' was an absolute treat. The slightly slower material allowed the Queens' soulful side to shine, the crowd entranced by Homme's bluesier cadence and the welcome change of pace after a string of high-energy rock bops. We sing along (badly) with our new friend Gary.

Queens of the Stone Age 'The End is Nero' tour at Auckland's Spark Arena, February 29, 2024
Photo credit: Supplied / Tom Grut

The final song ('final', of course, meaning the last song before a 20-minute encore) was 'Little Sister', before an extended, electrifying encore of 'God Is in the Radio', 'Go With the Flow' and 'A Song for the Dead'. With a parting wave to a rapturous crowd, so concluded one of the tightest, most consistent, most f**king badass performances I've seen.

If you're not yet convinced, let me leave you with this: from our vantage point, I could see the glow of very few phones throughout most of the show. Fans were too busy living in the moment to care about sharing it with their Instagram followings. As Homme himself told me, "I think I've always been obsessed with trying to live in the moment" - a sentiment their fans appear to share, at least for a night.

And so ended a night with the Queens, and as we ventured into the night with our new names, we realised we were leaving with so much more than we arrived with (and yes, a bad case of tinnitus).

Queens of the Stone Age will play Wellington and Christchurch on March 1 and March 3 with support from Pond and Earth Tongue.