It's summertime, and the livin' is easy. Nothin' to do but sit in the AC, read a good book and wait patiently for Ozzfest to hit town. That's right, Ozzfest. You can say what you want about the ticket price (too high), the choice of venue (St. Louis' beautiful landfill on the floodplain) and the rather narrow scope of musical styles represented (everything from extreme metal to rap metal to extreme rap metal), but you can't really knock Ozzy or his cult-of-personality medicine show. We heartily endorse the excess, spectacle and spirit of Ozzfest. Sure, it draws every strip-mall punker, suburban funky-metalhead and would-be trench-coat Mafioso in a 30-mile radius, but that's what makes it great.
Ten years ago the disenfranchised and aimlessly angry young male had no one who loved him, looked out for his deviant interests or offered him an alternative to smashing things while his parents were at work. But thanks to Ozzy, these beautiful young hooligans have a day of their own when they can swear vociferously, punch one another and hear some of the loudest music on the planet while they do it. Bless you, Ozzy Osbourne; you have done more for the future of this great nation than any candidate at either party convention.
Of course, Ozzy is a wily strategist, and he always puts a band or two on the bill that will appeal to his senior constituency. The older brothers and uncles and youngish fathers who have fostered this Generation Oz of freaks and misfits need some entertainment, too, and in the past Ozzfest has brought along Slayer, a re-formed Black Sabbath and -- the great coup -- the Motörhead/ Melvins showdown of two summers ago.
This year is no different. Ozzfest 2000 is long on bands that appeal to the surly fan of turntable/guitar hybrids, but in amongst the Disturbeds and Primer 55s and Methods of Mayhems, Ozzy (or his young son Jack, if you believe what you read in Rolling Stone) has slipped in a humdinger of a treat for the discriminating rock fan: Queens of the Stone Age. The inclusion of QOTSA proves that not only does Ozzy still love us, he still loves rock & roll -- because in this summer of Kid Rock, when every album seems to be an unholy union of break beats and Marshall stacks, the Queens have done the unthinkable: They released a rock & roll album, the very fine R, and it is the same strain of infectious rock as Raw Power, High Times, Rocket to Russia or Ace of Spades.
R is everything a rock album should be, which is to say it is everything a summer album should be, because the two terms imply the same feelings: Freedom from responsibility. Joyous hollering. It makes you want to blow hundreds of dollars on one of those steroid-fueled car-stereo systems so you can blast the record through Stonehenge-size speakers until the flesh on your face ripples from the incredibly boss guitar chops. It is unassailable proof that loud guitars, bass and drums are the keys to happiness and a better quality of life.
What R is not is "stoner rock." The Queens may have various connections to the '70s-style boogie riff-rock of Fu Manchu and Nebula because of shared former members (Queens vocalist/guitarist Joshua Homme and bassist/vocalist Nick Oliveri started Kyuss with drummer Brant Bjork, who then went to an early version of Fu Manchu; ex-Fu Manchu bandmates then begot Nebula), but lumping QOTSA in with the bong crowd is unfair and inaccurate, and Oliveri is tired of the label. "It's not stoner rock," he said in a recent, very, very short phone interview. "It (R) is about growing and trying not to do the same album twice. We made this album to sort of say, 'What are you going to call this? Find a label for this.'"
You can't argue with him. Whereas their first, self-titled album featured one kick-ass riff-and-groove combo after another, R is about two-and-a-half Ice Ages ahead of its ancestor in terms of depth and subtlety. "Tension Head" and "Leg of Lamb" feature enough chunka-chunka riffage to drop a buffalo, but "In the Fade (of Universal Subconscious)" rides the lonesome vocals of guest Screaming Tree-er Mark Lanegan and some nice electric piano to show that the band doesn't have to have a power overload to be powerful. The record is rife with guest musicians adding shade and nuance to songs, bringing out the finer points of Oliveri and Homme's songwriting abilities. Lanegan's fellow Tree Barrett Martin plays some vibes and percussion, and heavy-metal diva Rob Halford takes a turn on backing vocals.
Don't let that fool you into believing R's greatness is due to studio chicanery or committee consensus. When the Queens hit the stage, it's just the four of them, and the songs are strong enough to be stripped down to the essentials. "We wrote all those songs on acoustic guitars, but we play 'em raw and heavy live. At the end of the day, it's heavy guitars and low end and big drums in your face," says Oliveri.
If you want to get some of that big-drum-in-your-face action, you have two choices. The first is Ozzfest, but you'll have to get there early, because the Queens have been given the coveted 1:30 p.m. time slot. A lesser band might quail at the thought of hitting the stage as the hottest part of the day begins, when most of the crowd still hasn't trekked across the parking plains, but Oliveri is unfazed. "Back when Kyuss started, we played backyard parties and people's basements. Since then, we've done a lot of festivals in Europe. We like the small shows, but festivals are fun. It's you and a microphone and 10,000 people on the other side. It's great."
The Queens also suffer no fears of being out of place on this year's Korny-metal bill. "Ah, at the end of the day, it's rock & roll. From Roy Orbison to Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis to Black Sabbath to Black Flag, even, it's all coming from the same place. It's rock & roll. Maybe some of these bands are angrier or more depressed or something, but it all comes from the same place."
The only problem QOTSA has with the Ozzfest is the schedule. It's too light. "Ozzfest has one day on, one day off. I mean, we're out here to play rock. We're not out here for vacation and days off. We want to play. We have four days off now (after Boston), so we've booked some shows of our own in Canada."
It is the days off from Ozzfest that afford you your second choice for witnessing the Queens. On Aug. 13, the Queens will perform at Vintage Vinyl's University City store (for information on how to gain admission to the performance, call the store). Oliveri isn't sure when the Queens will be coming through St. Louis again, but, he says, "I've got an itinerary on the bus. I'll check it out and let you know." So even if you can't get into the store, you should show up to demand a Queens show at a local club. Besides, you'll probably be able to hear them outside the building. "We don't do the unplugged thing. We bring about half of our equipment to these in-stores, and we come to play."