The thing about being in the public eye is that transgressions are not easily forgotten. Be it an offensive tweet or a regrettable action, the internet’s long memory has a way of keeping celebrities’ lesser moments in the spotlight long after they’ve passed. In the case of Josh Homme — frontman for heavy rockers Queens of the Stone Age — the issue in question occurred in December, when he kicked a female photographer in the face during KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas in Los Angeles.
If fans of Queens took umbrage with Homme’s actions — I certainly did — they didn’t seem very bothered with it on Thursday evening when the band headlined Bill Graham Civic Auditorium as a rain-check for a cancelled appearance at 2017’s Outside Lands Festival. A massive crowd inadvertently created a fashion show of metal band shirts from past to present as they snaked through long lines at the metal detectors and packed the floor
Opening the show were the Eagles of Death Metal, a band that shares Homme with Queens of the Stone Age and which is no stranger to controversies of their own. Of course, the group will forever be linked with the shocking 2015 terrorist attack in Paris where three men opened fire while the band was on stage at the Bataclan.
To see them back in their element — shredding riffs and bedazzled in jumpsuits — was inspiring, but as we’ve been reminded in recent days, our affinity for the artists we love is usually wrinkled by the facts we’d rather not dwell on. In the case of Eagles of Death Metal, fans can take their pick.
For one, Hughes used to freelance as a speechwriter for the Republican Party — certainly not a crime but a curious past for a rock star, no doubt. Following the Bataclan attack, Hughes also made a number of anti-Muslim comments. Indeed he has a history of controversial quotes, like when he told Grantland in 2015 that “[i]t’s sexist to me to talk women into killing their babies.” There may not be enough words in the dictionary to unpack that particular opinion.
Watching the strobe lights be put through their paces as Hughes and company stormed the stage brought to mind the questions that many have been forced to ask themselves in the wake of Hollywood’s recent scandals and a mounting demand to hold artists accountable for their actions. At what point do the personal choices of a musician outweigh their art? Is it the burden of fans to know the politics of the bands they see and make their choices accordingly?
There are no easy answers, but suffice to say there was no way for me personally to watch Eagles of Death Metal without considering these queries. From my vantage point in the Bill Graham nosebleeds, most seemed fully engaged and excited to get not one but two Josh Homme projects with their ticket. The man himself even came to out for drumming duties during a performance of “Speaking in Tongues.”
When Eagles of Death Metal covered David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” my initial thoughts of what right they had to cover such sacred material quickly turned to a more sobering realization: Why am I willing to castigate them but not Bowie himself, who faced multiple sexual misconduct allegations throughout his career? The sliding scales of standards seemed tethered to our individual tastes — a dangerous prospect that serves only to further obfuscate the truth.
For those who came to Bill Graham on Thursday night eager to ditch their shirts and damage their ear drums, Queens of the Stone Age delivered all that was desired.
In a set that spanned two-and-a-half hours, the band pounded the crowd with their popular brand of riff-tastic rock. Homme frequently chatted with the sold-out crowd between songs, although it’s hard to be sure if even he knew exactly what he was saying. Drawing primarily from their past two records — 2013’s Like Clockwork and 2017’s Villains — Homme and his bandmates raged against the night, a spectacle complimented by one of the more intense and detailed light shows to hit a Bay Area concert.
Naturally no mention of Homme’s photographer kick was made, although he did at one point declare that “safety is bullshit” — an odd sentiment given what his friends in Eagles of Death Metal went through in 2015. Even if the words weren’t spoken, it’s fair to say the subject was on the minds of some in the crowd. Twitter was rife with jokes that played off the incident, and whispered references to it could be heard in the bustling corridors of the auditorium.
Thus it seems plainly clear that the Queens of the Stone Age faithful haven’t forgotten about the time Homme sent a photographer to the hospital — they simply don’t care.