Queens Of The Stone Age played Auckland’s Spark Arena last night, the latest stop on their The End Is Nero tour to promote latest album In Times New Roman, and it was clear the group are at the top of their game.

Taking the stage to a cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile” (‘Smile though your heart is achin’ …’) the group didn’t say a word, instead driving an enthusiastic crowd wild by launching straight into hits “No One Knows” and “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret”.

The group’s leader – and only remaining founding member – Josh Homme took the mic to proclaim ‘let’s f****n’ dance!’ as the group started in on groovy rocker “Smooth Sailing”.

This was the most animated we’ve seen Homme on these shores: the singer did more crowd work than usual, at various points singling out a couple with a sign in the audience, interacting with a fan who appeared to offer him drugs, and wandering through the general admission area to find a flag-waving fan in the front row.

Homme directed the crowd in choir-esque vocals during “Straight Jacket Fitting”, directed his bandmates to quiet down while he had the crowd sing the outro to “Make It Wit Chu”, and dedicated “Burn The Witch” to a dancing Jack Black hanging out at the side of the stage.

It painted Homme as a veteran frontman, charismatic as he spoke to an Auckland crowd that was lapping up every word, swaggering back and forth across the stage, playing back to back with guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and bassist Mike Shuman.

The rest of the set found the group sprinkling in tracks from their latest album In Times New Roman with hits from their glittering repertoire – highlights including “My God Is The Sun” from their 2013 album Like Clockwork, “The Way You Used To Do” from 2017’s Villains, a blistering rendition of “3’s & 7’s” from 2007’s under-rated Era Vulgaris, and a virtuosic performance of “I Appear Missing” at the request of a fan who was earlier invited to join the group on stage.

The new material sounded very much at home, with album highlights “Paper Machete” and “Emotion Sickness” standing out.

Closing the main set with speedy rocker “Little Sister”, the group took a short break before answering fans’ cheers for an encore and taking the stage to play a trio of heavy tracks from their 2002 magnum opus Songs For The Deaf, an extended versions of “God Is In The Radio” (complete with a drum solo from Jon Theodore, apparently suffering from food poisoning on the night) and “Song For The Dead” with hit single “Go With The Flow” wedged in between.

Homme threw a handful of guitar picks into the crowd, tore off a necklace and threw that at the audience, and made sure to wave goodbye to as many people as possible before leaving the stage. With that, it was over.

This was the third Queens Of The Stone Age performance I’ve seen, and it might well have been their finest.

Now fifty years old, and having spent the pandemic going through a messy divorce followed by a bout with cancer, and having admitted not playing guitar for three years over that period, Homme seemed genuinely thrilled to be on stage, happy to be playing songs for an appreciative crowd.

On the back of yet another well received album that finds his group near their best, let’s hope it isn’t another six years before we see him again.