Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus

The Santa Barbara Bowl was treated to a show full of skill, dedication and sheer noise on Friday, May 21, as established musicians Queens of the Stone Age took to the stage to give their audience a night to remember. 

The group visited the Bowl as a part of their “The End is Nero” tour, promoting “In Times New Roman…,” the band’s first new album in six years. The album was released in 2023 to critical acclaim and earned the band two nominations at the 2024 Grammy Awards, one for Best Rock Album and the other for Best Rock Song. Led by lead singer and guitarist Josh Homme, the band is perhaps best known for their 2001 album “Songs for the Deaf,” which peaked at number 17 on the Billboard 200. 

Queens of the Stone Age have been long-time contributors and upkeepers of rock music and have been playing since 1996. The group has made numerous notable contributions to music, opening for iconic bands such as Nine Inch Nails and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Some members even contributed to the score of 2018’s “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Iconic collaborators to the band’s own works include former Pixies member Paz Lenchantin, legendary Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford and Nirvana and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. 

The spirit of ‘90s rock was alive and well at the Bowl, with T-shirts honoring other hard rock and grunge bands such as Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and even Homme’s previous band Kruss speckled throughout the venue. Dedicated and ecstatic fans even arrived in their own homemade gear — battle jackets, custom-painted leather jackets and handmade signs littered the floor. The audience’s form of self-expression and long-time dedication to this historic group was heartwarming, and almost as captivating as the show itself. 

Opening act Bully took to the stage at 7 p.m. and breezed through a quick set full of distortion and classic alternative rock. Bully is a one woman show — the only official member is lead singer and guitarist Alicia Bognanno — but she was joined by three touring musicians to fully flesh out the band’s loud and layered sound. 

Exactly on time, Queens of the Stone Age calmly walked on stage to begin a set that was anything but. Launching into lead track “Little Sister,” the crowd erupted in pure ecstatic glee as the Bowl rattled from the sound produced by the five musicians onstage. Comfortably situated in a pyramid of flashing lights and strobe effects, the night’s visuals worked perfectly with the band’s heart-thumping and energetic sound — especially when paired with the unbeatable views of Santa Barbara. 

Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus

The night’s performance was the band’s first time playing at the Bowl since opening for Hole in 1999, making it exactly 25 years since gracing the venue. Frontman Homme, a Southern California native, made sure to praise the venue throughout the night, even if he did frequently joke that no one in the audience was “actually from Santa Barbara.” Homme quickly retracted his statement after noticing immediate denial from a fan in the crowd. After asking for the fan’s name but being unable to hear over the cheers and laughter of the crowd, Homme nicknamed the local “Dale from Santa Barbara” and even dedicated a song to him. “We’re here to dance together. No matter where you’re from, we dance together,” Homme said before the band launched into “Turnin’ on the Screw.”

From the instant he took the stage, Homme took control of not only the sound and the audience, but the Bowl itself, oftentimes giving instructions on lighting in between songs and providing anecdotal stories about his day-to-day life. 

“Turn the lights down so I look cuter,” Homme joked before beginning a story about his recent activities. “I went to the Renaissance fair in Irwindale. It’s not what you think. When I went to the Renaissance fair, the thing that struck me, that’s so amazing — it didn’t matter what side everyone was on, what they felt who they were — they were all dressed up like a bunch of fucking dorks together. And I felt so blessed to be with people that committed to loving this thing so much … It didn’t matter where they came from or who they were.”

“The Queens of the Stone Age audience is a little bit from all places and all walks of life … and we’re all here together so let’s have a good time,” Homme concluded. 

The setlist for the show was a perfect mix for both casual fans and dedicated followers. Track “I Sat by the Ocean” matched the ambiance of Santa Barbara, “3’s & 7’s” has made a welcome return to the Queens’ setlist and encore songs “No One Knows” and “A Song for the Dead” were greeted by a frenzied audience. 

Homme mentioned the diversity of the setlist during a quick chat in between songs, telling the audience that, “we’re only playing deep cuts tonight … If you just wanted to see the hits, you should have went to the Forum, you fucking weirdo.”

Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus

The band then immediately launched into perhaps their most famous song, 2003’s “Go With the Flow,” to the laughter and delight of the crowd.

The crowd was also participating eagerly throughout the night — Homme led them in a sing-along version of 2007’s “Make It Wit Chu,” featuring neon pink lighting and a dramatic solo from drummer Jon Theodore.

Almost extraterrestrial keyboard sounds and the wailing and drones of electric guitars were heard in between the performance of each track. Guitarists Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen paired excellently with keyboardist Dean Fertita to create the hybrid sounds of rock and electronic music that the band is known for. 

In perhaps one of the most magical moments anyone present at the Bowl had experienced, during the performance of 2002’s “The Sky Is Fallin,’” the audience looked up to see a literal astronomical event — a train of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites slowly making their way across the sky. Whether through purposeful planning by the band or pure, sheer luck, the moment was awe-inducing. 

The same can be said about the rest of the night, although the sheer joy and excitement felt by the crowd was all due to the Queens of the Stone Age’s very intentional use of their skill, noise and decades of performing. Combined with an incredibly entertaining frontman, the band made the night one that the Bowl is unlikely to ever forget.