[28 November 2005]
There’s a right way to record a live album and a wrong way. Thankfully for those of us who love the format, the Queens of the Stone Age have done almost everything right in the process of compiling this package. The discs are not without flaws, but just in terms of what is collected and how it is presented, this deserves to become the live presentation gold standard for anyone producing a concert record in the age of DVD.
Over the Years and Through the Woods consists of two discs, a DVD and a CD. The DVD presents the Queens’ 22 August 2005 show at London’s Brixton Academy in its entirety, in addition to a host of fan-pleasing extras. The CD presents the same Brixton show in a slightly truncated form, editing down the 20-song playlist to a manageable 14. The sound is unsurprisingly robust and full, and even if you have trouble hearing the keyboards—well, that’s a complaint as old as rock itself.
As is often the case when a group knows a specific show is being recorded for posterity, the Queens put their best faces forward for the camera. Most of the group’s hits are represented, as well as a number of rarities—“I Wanna Make It Wit Chu” is included off the ongoing Desert Sessions project, and b-side “The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died” also gets an airing. Oddly, however, while well-known numbers “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” are included in the set, they are excluded from the CD in favor of lesser-known tracks. It’s probably the kind of gesture that endears them to their fans, but it makes for a slightly baffling exclusion.
But let’s make no mistake: this has obviously been constructed with the fans in mind, and it is accordingly exhaustive. The DVD’s bonus section features clips from every previous Queens tour. The footage may not always be that great—previous clips were obviously not recorded with posterity in mind, but even with the washed-out camcorder visuals, it’s nonetheless a treat to see the band playing as far back as 1998. If you’re upset because you missed out on seeing Dave Grohl play the skins on your with the group in 2002, you can look forward to half a dozen clips taken from the Songs For the Deaf tour. Likewise, those upset that the absence of Mark Lenegan prevented a handful of songs from Deaf from being performed on the recent tour should be happy to hear that his contributions are also well-documented. Hell, there are even two tracks featuring Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top jamming with the Queens—his blistering solo on “Burn the Witch” pushes an already-cool song over the cliff into mind-blowing, and I don’t even like ZZ Top.
But with all that said, there are still certain aspects of the set that leave me uncomfortable. As clear as it is that this set was constructed for the band’s fans, it is also clear that this gesture is not purely selfless. The Queens—or more to the point, frontman Josh Homme—had a lot riding on the release of their fourth album, Lullabies to Paralyze, as well as the subsequent tour documented here. The shadow of the dismissed bassist and co-founder Nick Oliveri hangs heavy over the proceedings.
Any band that decides to soldier on in the absence of a founding member, especially following an acrimonious parting, faces increased scrutiny. It is apparent from the evidence presented here that Homme wishes to put questions stemming from Oliveri’s departure as far behind him as possible, but in his haste to present a strong and unified Queens he courts the exact kind of negative reaction he sought to avoid. It doesn’t really matter that Oliveri was apparently fired for beating his girlfriend—one of the most despicable acts imaginable. The Queens still aren’t the same without him, and without any acknowledgement of this fact the triumphant mood ring slightly false. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, at least.
As has been explained many times the Queens of the Stone Age are something of a unique band, in that their lineup is in constant flux. The core of the Queens was maintained by Homme and, until recently, Oliveri. However, the DVD seems to indicate that Oliveri has been retroactively demoted to the status of just another in the band’s long history of temporary musicians. One of the more questionable decisions on the DVD is the blending of footage from multiple band members during the same song. For instance, you’ll see older footage of Dave Grohl banging the skins during a song, and the film will then segue to current drummer Joey Castillo playing the exact same song. It’s slightly unsettling when that occurs, but downright puzzling when we see older footage of Oliveri beginning a song that segues flawlessly into current bassist Troy van Leeuwen playing the exact same song. The message could not be less ambiguous.
Perhaps busting out Orwell is a bit much for a review of a hard rock DVD, but the effect here is startlingly similar to the way political undesirables were excised from the official record in 1984. There’s no denying that the Queens are a good band that can put on a great show, but there is something faintly seedy in the way Homme tries to pretend that the loss of Oliveri, regardless of the circumstances, doesn’t hurt the band. There’s not a fudged note throughout the entire set, but it’s clear that the group has been transformed. What used to be a dynamic, albeit occasionally rocky artistic partnership has changed into the hard-rock equivalent of Zappa’s Mothers: the lineup changes every year, but as long as the maestro is still kicking the show goes on. There’s nothing wrong with that, but pretending that nothing has changed smacks me as self-defeating.