For those more used to seeing Josh Homme with his band Queens of the Stone Age from the perspective of a seething, frenzied mosh pit at some of London’s less salubrious venues such as The Forum and Brixton Academy, last night presented a rare chance to see a more dignified acoustic solo show by Mr Joshua Homme at The Royal Festival Hall as part of the annual Meltdown Festival. The only frenzy seen at the RFH in general is for the cocktail list at the Skylon bar. The only seething is later, when the bill arrives.
But personal finances aside, Meltdown is a unique event, as each one is curated by a different musical legend, who generally treats the thing as the opportunity to ask a mixture of their friends, their favourite current bands, and their musical heroes to perform. Previous festivals have been curated by some of music’s biggest names, including John Peel, David Bowie, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Ray Davies and Jarvis Cocker.
Morrissey speaks with pride in his autobiography of how he managed to persuade The New York Dolls to reform when he was curator.* For the 21st Meltdown Festival it is the turn of the Man From U.N.K.L.E. James Lavelle, the efforts of whose curation include shows by Crissie Hynde, Edwyn Collins, Neneh Cherry and Nick Zinner from Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Lavelle is best known as one half of UNKLE. Not to be confused with the sixties spy TV series,** UNKLE in turn is perhaps best known for its work with DJ Shadow. The sample-heavy album Psyence Fiction included collaborations with Thom Yorke, Beastie Boy Mike D, Richard Ashcroft and Jason Newstead, then of Metallica. UNKLE has also remixed a number of artists, including some Queens of the Stone Age singles.
So much for how Lavelle’s address book managed to persuade Josh Homme to play this show.
Homme himself threw his own light on the subject as he joked with the audience, “When James asked me to do it I didn’t want to, but I owe him a lot of money…”
What of the show itself? Josh Homme: Unplugged is how MTV would have styled it twenty years ago. Appearing alone onstage with little more than a suit, his guitar, and a little bit of attitude, Homme was a one man tour de force.
The last QOTSA album was an interesting turn of direction. Tonight, the songs from “…Like Clockwork” were mainly concentrated towards the end of the set (The Vampyre of Time and Memory, Kalopsia) and were absolute highlights. In the meantime Homme bantered with an excited crowd and sang an eclectic mix of songs including Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This”, and new composition “Villains of Circumstance” (I wrote this one thirty minutes ago claimed Homme, not entirely convincingly).
These were followed by Johnny Cash song “Dark As A Dungeon”: introduced by Homme as being from “One of those albums where he plays for a bunch of convicts. Totally not like tonight.” Homme’s humour, delivered with glass of wine in hand and a spark in his eye won the crowd over immediately, and then he delivered a fine and rich vocal.
Indeed, Homme appeared in fine spirits all evening, albeit a little nervous, fluffing the odd note on piano and guitar with good humour and picking on a member of the audience early on for leaving for a “comfort break” with a hurt reproach, then responding to an imagined slight with “Yeah, well I thought your first three albums were your best, too!”
“So what would a solo show be without other people?” then asked Homme wryly, introducing fellow QOTSA band member Troy Van Leeuwen, playing “Mosquito Song” (from Songs For The Deaf) and “I Never Came” (from Lullabies…).
Just to ensure this would be an unforgettable night, on came former Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan for “One Hundred Days” (from Lanegan solo album “Bubblegum”) and QOTSA classic “Hanging Tree”….
With the newer and more mellow QOTSA songs fitting the setting superbly, the seventy minute acoustic set passed all too quickly.
As for Josh Homme? If the music thing doesn’t work out, then perhaps a career in stand up comedy awaits…
*Which made a change from his moaning at his having to fork out a 25% share of his Smiths earnings to the other band members. Not that I blame him.
** I accept that no-one reading this will be confusing UNKLE’s James Lavelle with TV spies of any description.
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