Belfast had been in virtual lockdown for the long weekend which marked the cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s marching season, the Twelfth. Bars, restaurants and shops kept their doors firmly shut for most of the duration, leaving those who dared to venture into the practically abandoned city centre with little to do or see, and very few options when it came to obtaining one of life’s necessities – a pint! So, it was a great relief, as the isolation drew to a close, to be able to escape the confines of the Team PM den and and head into town to spend a couple of hours in the company of one of rock’s true characters, former Queens Of The Stone Age and Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri, as he swung into Norn Iron on the opening leg of his European ‘Death Acoustic’ tour.
I’ve just referred to Oliveri as a character, and he shows the appropriateness of this description right from the outset, with the main characteristic which immediately shines through being his genuine humility. He ambles almost nonchalantly on to the tiny stage, and urges the audience to come closer, declaring that “my stage is your stage” as he invites everyone present to enjoy what he describes as his “interpretation of what acoustic should be” and set of “old stuff, new stuff and, er, some more old stuff”. Just as immediately it is also obvious that he is having vocal problems, as his tour manager hands him a hot whiskey to combat his sore throat: it’s something he alludes to, when he praises the curative powers of said beverage by exclaiming “fuck wrapping your throat in scarves –your gran and granpa were right: drink whiskey!”
Over the course of the next 80 minutes or so, Oliveri treats us a set drawn from QOTSA and Kyuss’ extensive back catalogue, as well as a few well chosen songs from The Dwarves, whom he reveals he has now joined on a permanent basis – “that’s something like eight bands I’m in!”. This includes one of the aforementioned new tunes ‘Luv Is Fiction’, from the forthcoming ‘The Dwarves Invented Rock ‘N Roll’ album. Of the older songs, he dedicates ‘I’m Gonna Leave You’ and ‘Another Love Song’ to his ex-wife (introducing the latter with the comment “she was a good for nothing – but she was good for a few songs!”), to whom references permeate the between song banter: well, as he admits himself, he does “talk a lot when I’m tuning”.
Oliveri’s vocals, like his playing style, are acidic and deeply passionate, combining vicious interpretations of the song with a venomous delivery, while the almost remorseful but deathly funny stories reflect the colour of both his material and his character. As mentioned earlier, Oliveri also demonstrates his humility – and no more clearly than when he invites a dozen or so members of the crowd up to sing the gang vocals for ‘Drug Store’, while he himself hammers out the rhythm with one foot on the stage and the other on the floor. The deeply personal nature of his song selection also shines through when he dedicates ‘Autopilot’ to his boyhood friend John Carter, which results in a darkly joyous singalong, while the bitterness he still feels towards some of his fellow former collaborators also is not far from the surface, such as his stinging attack on his former Kyuss band mates, of whom he declares “fuck the lawsuits, this is a fan’s band’ on the intro to ‘Love Has Helped Me By’.
The evening was one which clearly showed Oliveri determined to emerge from the shadows, and shake off the demons, of his past and into the bright light of a hopeful future. Everyone present could not help but feel his pain, but also basked in the sunshine of his conversation and admired the genuine, honest and humbling attitude he brought.
Photographs by The Dark Queen / (c) PlanetMosh 2015.