Coming off a string of European and UK festival dates that ran from mid-June through early-July, Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) are touring North America in support of their new album (and 8th overall), “In Times New Roman…” their first new material in more than five years! Dubbed The End Is Nero Tour, the Seattle, WA quintet formed in 1996, led by front-man/guitarist and founding member Josh Homme (a.k.a. Baby Duck), visited the Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater (better known as the Amp) in Bridgeport, CT this past Monday evening on the fourth date on their 28-city trek.
At 5:30 PM sharp, gates to the former home of the Bridgeport Bluefish minor league baseball franchise – The Ballpark at Harbor Yard – opened to a line of diehard QOTSA fans that had been waiting for hours already. Nestled along the Long Island Sound waterfront, the boutique amphitheater that seats nearly 6,000 souls opened on July 28, 2021, with inaugural performances by REO Speedwagon and Styx.
The first of two bands performing this night in support of QOTSA were The Armed, a musical collective of at least seven members, with noise rock and post punk leanings. Created in Detroit, Michigan in 2009, the project has featured several guest collaborators on their releases, including QOTSA’s very own Troy Van Leeuwen who produced The Armed’s newest album (“Perfect Saviors”), and fifth overall, which is set for release on August 25. As membership in The Armed is anonymous, I did my very best to dig up these band-mate names – Cara Drolshagen, Patrick Shiroishi, Randall Lee and Urian Hackney. However, The Armed have gone to great lengths to deceive and misdirect their fans when it comes to who actually is in the band, even hiring actors to pretend to be members, using fake names and several other ruses. So, you can basically take these four names with a grain of salt.
Taking to the stage at approximately 7:00 pm, the outfit’s tornado of bodies twisted and swirled in all directions for the entire duration of their dizzying set, spilling into the audience on more than one occasion. The Armed offered up nine songs best described as experimental pop, including a few which were pulled from their fourth, highly acclaimed full-length album (“Ultrapop“) released in 2021, including “All Futures,” “An Iteration” and “Big Shell.” As The Armed’s 35-minute set turned for home, an awkward exchange occurred between one of the outfit’s male vocalists and someone in the audience. Nonetheless, the incident was short-lived and despite the slightly bad vibes, the apocalyptic delivery of fast, hard songs with tonsil-shredding vocals was still a welcome sight to behold.
THE ARMED Photo Gallery
Next to grace the stage was Phantogram, the electronic, dream pop musical duo of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter. Formed in 2007 and hailing from Saratoga Springs, NY, the two friends who met in preschool were joined by a touring drummer and keyboardist as they mesmerized the steadily growing audience with their swirling guitars, spacey keyboards and airy vocals.
Like The Armed before them, Phantogram also tendered a nine song set which they spread across their four album discography. The heaviest dose of their set-list was gifted from 2014’s “Voices“, including “Black Out Days,” “Bad Dreams,” “Fall in Love,” and one of their biggest hits, “Howling at the Moon.”
The soft spoken Barthel – rocking a Pixies tee, black patent leather boots, shiny silver shorts and fishnets – and her hypnotic, engaging lyrics were on point all evening. As is accustomed when the duo performs live, her vocals were perfectly complimented by Carter’s atmospheric guitar work (sporting his signature baseball hat) and the rest of the band’s trip-hop instrumentation for a captivating, dreamy set.
PHANTOGRAM Photo Gallery
Shortly after 9:00 pm, as Peggy Lee’s “Smile” faded out from the house PA, Baby Duck (the only constant member throughout multiple lineup changes), the aforementioned Van Leeuwen (a multi-instrumentalist, including guitar and keyboard), Michael Shuman (bass), Jon Theodore (drums) and Dean Fertita (keyboards, guitar) entered at stage left to a deafening ovation. After assuming their rightful positions and taking up their respective instruments, the show was officially underway with “No One Knows,” from their third studio album and arguably one of their most beloved tracks. Up next was “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”, another one of QOTSA’s finest songs (about f*cking, of course).
Spreading the wealth around their career-spanning discography (with the only absence being from their 1998 self-titled debut album), Homme and his supremely cool mates bestowed upon their fans 17 songs which more than adequately displayed their prowess as alternative rock gods. At the pinnacle of their careers, each member commanded total mastery of his craft, all set to a blues-infused backdrop established by Homme’s distinctive guitar playing style and falsetto vocals.
The first of four offerings from 2023’s “In Times New Roman…”, “Emotion Sickness,” was soon to follow. QOTSA also presented “Carnavoyeur,” “Negative Space” and “Paper Machete” a bit later. Noteworthy, the final entry to their latest studio offering, “Straight Jacket Fitting,” was on the printed set-list between fan favorites “Make It Wit Chu” and “Little Sister,” taken from “Era Vulgaris” (2007) and “Lullabies to Paralyze” (2005), respectively, but did not make the cut. No worries though, as “God Is in the Radio” took its place as the penultimate song to the encore.
As the end of the epic night of stoner rock approached, Homme dedicated “In the Fade” to the late Mark Lanegan – prominent singer for the early grunge band Screaming Trees (1984-2000) and former QOTSA member (2000-2014) – who co-wrote the song with him.
Circling back to the encore, there really wasn’t one, as it was more of an acknowledgment by Homme as to where it should be had QOTSA physically walked off, and back onto the stage. So, for the sake of saving precious time in their 105-minute set, and in lieu of a traditional encore, Homme simply turned his back to the sold-out venue and then spun back around toward us, exclaiming “here we are again!” physically walked off, and back onto the stage. So, for the sake of saving precious time in their 105-minute set, and in lieu of a traditional encore, Homme simply turned his back to the sold-out venue and then spun back around toward us, exclaiming “here we are again!”
With the band’s outlaw swagger meter still registering 100 percent, the final coupling of songs (“Go with the Flow” and “A Song for the Dead”) was upon us. But before the final number commenced, Homme addressed his loyal, rapturous fans one last time. “It was a pleasure to get to know you, thank you so much. I hope you had a wonderful night. C’est la vie motherf*ckers.”
The first leg of ‘The End Is Nero Tour’ runs through August 19, with a stop at the Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, TN. After a festival date in Sao Paulo, Brazil (September 9), the second leg of U.S. dates resumes on September 16 at Riot Fest in Chicago, IL, ultimately wrapping at the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, CA on October 8. Less than a week after their North American tour culminates, QOTSA are off to Guadalajara, Mexico (October 14), followed by gigs in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, the UK, and finally, Dublin, Ireland on November 22.