Since releasing their eponymous 1998 debut, Queens of the Stone Age have been dubbed many things: Stoner rock, desert rock, psych rock, alternative metal. All of those descriptors are apt, to a degree. But as the band's hour-long Austin City Limits Festival set proved, lost amid the group's crunchy hard rock, thumping percussion and frontman Josh Homme's homage to electric blues guitarists is an optically new—yet not new at all—descriptor: Dance rock.
Perhaps QOTSA will never be played alongside LCD Soundsystem or the Rapture at the next hipster gallery opening, but, alongside Foo Fighters, there are few mainstream rock acts blending hard rock with melodic shuffle better. It's easy for hard rock to dominate the conversation, as those rushing past the band's stage to catch EDM superstar Kaskade and Canadian synthpop duo Purity Ring may have only heard loud guitars.
But hidden in plain sight is QOTSA's ability to create a dance floor as easy as a mosh pit; its lockstep grooves as surprisingly nimble as 6'4" Homme's torso.
Homme spoke economically between songs, but many of the interludes involved explicit exhortations. "This is our dance song," the singer said before 2005's "Little Sister," immediately followed with "Here's a song that you can sing and dance to," before 2007's "Make It wit Chu." On the latter, bassist Michael Shuman, who took over from the track's original bassist Alain Johannes, weaved a slinky bass line as sexy as anything written by Bernard Edwards or Larry Graham.
Other commands were subtler, but the intent was clear. "Let's show you how funky we can be," Homme said before "Smooth Sailing," a warped blues-rock track from new album ...Like Clockwork given a dancey makeover, with more emphatic bass and less fractured guitar tonight.
The group can still pummel, however, when it wants. The chorus to "No One Knows," the band's 2002 hit off their magnum opus Songs for the Deaf, still sounds like a hammer cracking someone's skull. Former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore, who replaced longtime member Joey Castillo earlier this year, looks like a Hindu god; a blur of arms dominating tracks like Clockwork's "My God Is the Sun." "Song for the Dead," the Black Flag-inspired set closer, still sounds like the aural equivalent of a heart after four lines of coke, here performed both louder and longer.
But tonight, Theodore's soulful side was just as prominent. On the melodic new track "I Sat by the Ocean," the drummer gave the song an extra buoyancy, balancing standard issue hard rock bashing with his professed love of Haitian drummers and their intrinsic need to keep the dance going.
"Austin, we came to give you a night you'll never remember," Homme joked, midway through set opener "Feel Good Hit of the Summer." As the frontman sang the song's hook—"Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol"—repeatedly, a group of college-aged men switched from fist-pumping to circle dancing.