It was hard finding someone to go with to this large-scale show. Every person I asked for company said "No thanks". It is seldom that people snub at a free gig like that. There seems to be a stigma attached to QOTSA that I am not aware of. And it made me want to go even more. Of course I did find nice company in the end. Free gig, hello?!
Zitadelle Spandau was new territory to me. Even though a lot of artists I admire pass through Berlin's open air venue, I have managed to avoid the trek and scale of Zitadelle to this day. When I arrived, ticket touts were approaching me in the U-Bahn station, salespeople were tempting me with overpriced beer, and senior folks were waiting with shopping carts to place your empties in. Worry came over me - was I attending a stadium show or, worse, a festival? I needn't have worried. Though the open air space on the grounds of a 16th century fortress is pretty large and lined with drinks and food tents reminiscent of summer festivals, it does not actually feel huge or out of control. There are not long lines to deal with or overly drunk folk to handle. It really just felt like a gig under an open sky with trees and old brick walls surrounding you. I was pleased.
Two rather dull opening bands tested our patience. We caught up on old family stories, had a bite. When the intro to QOTSA was played, we were ready for action. But the first song disappointed. The sound was mediocre, not letting the band's trademark heavy bass lines and bass drum through. The song was lacking umpfh, and the audience looked on. Was this going to be a huge let-down? No sir! They followed on with their two big hits from "Songs for the Deaf" and people starting rocking out, the soundman had got the hang of it, planes were flying over our heads, a full moon was appearing in the sky. We were transfixed, dancing.
I will always associate QOTSA with the Man's Ruin record label and my two years of work in a warehouse in London's Cargo Records distribution. We were all obsessed with Fu Manchu and QOTSA, with stoner rock and leather boots, with blues à la Jack White. It seemed an appropriate counter culture to the brit pop scene of the 90s or the twee indie rock that was coming over from the States, and definitely something new for an old HC punk kid like myself. We felt rebellious rocking out to Queens Of The Stone Age's self-titled debut while shipping boxes of records out of an old warehouse in the back streets of South-West London. And though I got addicted to their break through hit album "Songs for the Deaf" later on, I suppose I ceased to really pay attention what was going. It was only a couple of years ago that I realised how huge this group of desert rockers has become.
But it opens up opportunities for the band that would have been unthinkable of. Not only was the setting for the show right, was the band and Zitadelle audience rocking out hard. Mastermind Josh Homme could really showcase his talent by playing a couple of numbers on an electric piano and by demonstrating an amazing voice that, granted, I had never attributed him with. Ranging from numbers that reminded me of Bryan Ferry to high pitched lines and the trademark low moments, I was absolutely mesmerised by his singing. For further entertainment, especially those at the far back, they had an illustrated cartoon set in the desert that went as backdrop to the entire gig. I mean that is not offensive over-the-top production. That is a really nice touch that must have cost a fortune but does not show off with it.
So, whatever all those that refused a free ride to this trip were thinking, this was amazing and they missed out. Sure, over two hours of any band is trying, but we left a couple of songs early to catch an empty U-Bahn and went home as happy bunnies. Life is good when you see a hot summer concert of QOTSA.
PS: Tough conditions to take pictures. The stage always looks smaller and further away on these shots as it actually does in real life. Dino was kind and took these shots for me anyway.