“The point is to come together and make a night you’ll never remember,” Josh Homme announces during Queens Of The Stone Age’s headline set at Finsbury Park.
Counting the number of raised pint cups that greet his every word, temporary amnesia’s certainly a possibility. But it’s a near certainty that, even through the haze of tomorrow’s hangover, the assembled 45 000 won’t soon forget tonight.
Despite making their entrance to Singing In The Rain, the band have absolutely no intention of cooling down one of the hottest days of the year. After all, Homme’s originally from Palm Desert, California and specialises in scorching hard rock party anthems with all the bite of a rattlesnake.
The muscular Do It Again, punctuated by regular crowd-baiting outbursts of “hey”, is the perfect warm up. The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret simply sizzles, with Homme alternating between croon and falsetto as guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen riffs relentlessly to his right.
An agile Go With The Flow, propelled by Jon Theodore’s mighty drumming, ignites the afterburners. And a savage Sick, Sick, Sick, all grit and chaos, feels like standing in the middle of a sandstorm.
But like Homme’s voice, which can transform from rock god roar to smooth Bowie croon in the space of a word, the Queens’ set boasts as many colours as the ever-changing lighting.
Stomping boogie Feet Don’t Fail Me and hip-shaking The Way You Used To Do, both from current album Villains, swing like feelgood party anthems. By comparison, pared back Elvis-gone-bad parable If I Had A Tail is pure menace. The languid Smooth Sailing dials down the musical ferocity while remaining as emotionally piercing as a thorn bush.
The shuffling Domesticated Animals, with opening line “Today is the day the wilderness comes to reclaim everything” is barely contained despair that topples over into anguish during its bruising climax. And I Sat By The Ocean, led by Homme’s falsetto and anchored by Van Leeuwen’s pedal steel, is the closest the five men get to a bleeding-heart ballad.
Feel Good Hit Of The Summer is notable by its absence, especially considering the weather and a mood so celebratory that Homme at one point observes: “It’s your party. We’re just playing it.” This leaves a robust No One Knows as the biggest hit (and most Queens Of The Stone Age-y song) they play tonight, yet it’s a celebratory Make It Wit Chu that makes the biggest impact. The plodding studio version turns nimble and effortless, and the perfect springboard for some enforced audience participation, a flaming Van Leeuwen solo, some fancy fingerwork from keyboard player Dean Fertita, and a clearly relaxed Homme to talk about the power of unity.
It’s the moment today’s been building towards for the past nine hours, as the sense of anticipation progressively ramps up during sets from Brighton’s Black Honey (think serene feminine vocals over crunchy indie guitars), female duo Deap Vally (from the White Stripes/Black Keys/Royal Blood school of blues-rock), and a shirtless Miles Kane (who aptly slips an unexpected cover of Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff into his sweaty showcase).
The Hives are even sweatier, and not just because they apparently forgot to check the weather report. Dressed in their signature black and white suits, the quirky Swedes run around with almost as much energy as when they first blew open the garage doors in the early 2000s.
While blasting through tireless songs like Come On!, Walk Idiot Walk, and Tick Tick Boom, frontman Per Almqvist especially has a hard time standing still. Scissor kicks, Roger Daltrey-style microphone swinging, bicep flexing, and leaning over the barrier into the crowd are all part of his repertoire.
When the music stops, he’s even more irrepressible, tilting his quirky Swedish humour at Brexit, the World Cup, the royal wedding, and class structures. There’s even time to romance a woman in the crowd, try out his Scottish accent, and convince a large portion of the audience to kneel down for no discernible reason.
Such mastery of the crowd is one of the few things Run The Jewels share with the rest of today’s guitar-heavy lineup. The duo, who specialise in old-school hip-hop complete with actual record scratching, address the genre disparity head on, wondering out loud why they’re even on the bill.
“Savagery is what we have to offer,” posits Killer Mike before he and El-P unleash another unstoppable flow of words over beats that cannot be denied. And even as they rap about subjects like female empowerment and racial injustice, the MCs don’t forget to have fun, constantly commanding the audience to put their hands up, jump, or chant “RTJ”.
“Savagery” has never felt so entertaining – that is, until Iggy Pop barges onto the stage and rips into one genre-defining classic after another: I Wanna Be Your Dog, Gimme Danger, The Passenger, and Lust for Life. And those are just the first four songs in a set that’s as big on attitude as it is hits.
While his perpetually cool, perpetually unfazed band get on with the business of creating a joyful racket, Iggy (shirtless, obviously) rolls on the ground, throws his microphone stand around, falls to his knees, uses his belt as a whip, and flips his middle finger up at anyone who’s looking.
It’s a pantomime he seems to enjoy as much as the audience, but one that never detracts from the music on offer – least of all an inspired take on his old friend’s The Jean Genie. Almost sounding like Queens Of The Stone Age, Pop’s swampy rendition is both a tribute to fallen heroes and a passing of the torch.
Review of Queens Of The Stone Age @ Finsbury Park by Nils van der Linden. Photographs courtesy of Festival Republic.