Queens of the Stone Age provide the perfect, hit-packed festival headline set despite Download 2024’s middling reception

14th June 2024

Amidst a day of rain and mud, Josh Homme and co. shone through.

In recent years, festivals across the board have steadily started to inch their remits wider than the tribal events they first began life as. Where Reading and Leeds used to be firmly guitar-centric affairs, now you’ll find indie artists lining up next to rap, trap, pop and everything in between. Latitude in the 2010s had a reputation for taking a punt on rising new headliners (Foals, The Maccabees and Wolf Alice all made their bill-topping debuts there); amidst the modern competitive landscape, this year it’s headlined by Duran Duran, London Grammar and Kasabian.

Throughout, however, rock and metal mecca Download has firmly stood strong in its position. There have been a few unlikely bookings, but largely the Donington Park weekender has stuck to its blazing guns - so much so that, last year, Metallica headlined not once but twice. When this year’s line-up was announced, then, it was to relative consternation from hardened festival devotees; as Friday night headliners, Josh Homme’s swaggering rockers Queens of the Stone Age were deemed an ill fit - neither heavy nor showy enough to fill the spot. And as the band emerge to a notably thin crowd come their 9pm top slot, it’s hard to say whether it’s the miserable weather (the classic ‘Drownload’ mud bath is one thing that hasn’t changed) or this proliferating opinion that’s the cause.

Friday’s bill has, in general, been tailored to allow a broader and in some ways more indie-leaning path through its line up. Though there’s plenty for the OG Download-goer to soak up (Norwegian experimental folk outfit Heilung, with their opening sage cleansing ritual and bone instruments, are like nothing else this or any other field are likely to see), there’s also a joyfully-received, pummelling afternoon set from DIY's 2024 Festival Guide cover stars SOFT PLAY, and a more lukewarm reception for Royal Blood, who battle through technical issues (far from the only ones across the weekend) on their Apex Stage main support slot. They’re a fitting warm up for Homme and co, but unlikely to lure the hoard of people trudging over to Busted’s wildly popular set across the site.

Queens of The Stone Age at Download Festival 2024 Queens of The Stone Age at Download Festival 2024 Queens of The Stone Age at Download Festival 2024

In some ways, the naysayers are correct - Queens of the Stone Age aren’t ones for grand whistles and bangs; you’re never going to see their hip-swivelling frontman donning masks or breathing fire. But what the Californian stalwarts do have is hits by the bucketload, and it’s with this mentality that they rip straight into an opening gambit of ‘Little Sister’, ‘Burn The Witch’ and ‘My God Is The Sun’. There’s an obvious nod to where they’re playing too; in place of some of their more groove-fuelled recent cuts, there are additional tracks from heavy debut ‘Songs For The Deaf’ brought out, with an early ‘Go With The Flow’ winning over even the relatively stagnant outer rings of the crowd.

Homme is on showman-like form, repeatedly inviting the festival to join him in a “night you’ll never remember”, and descending, preacher-like into the front row during an extended ‘Straight Jacket Fitting’. He grinningly declares himself “stoned and fucked up” but the set is a tight and visceral run through the band’s considerable arsenal, and as they ramp up the riffs with a closing trio of ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire’, ‘No One Knows’ and ‘Song For The Dead’, there’s no question that they’re capable of competing with any world class headliner out there. Some of Download’s crowd, at least, agrees.

Tags: Queens Of The Stone Age, Download, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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