San Quentin is still on many great musicians’ “must” list of places to perform. Queens of the Stone Age, Queeny King and Deadsy are now among the legends such as Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana and Metallica that have rocked the prison.
Prisoners filed into the Protestant Chapel by the hundreds, anticipating the powerful guitar riffs and a spectacular lighting show.
Many prisoners had to be turned away due to overcrowding.
Prison staff and administrators, including Warden Ron Davis, were in attendance.
“The prison system isn’t something that’s talked about very much, especially after the sentencing,” said Josh Homme, the band’s founder and lead singer. “I grew up listening to Johnny Cash. I can’t imagine how much light was shined on San Quentin by Cash doing that album.
“It was good for all sides. The inmates, the guards, everybody. So it feels, quite honestly, an honor to come here and play for you guys,” Homme added.
The band’s music was a dark pleasure. It sounded like your favorite vampire movie soundtrack. It was a mixture of soft rock, hip hop and trance music, with a hint of metal.
The band performed in a ray of red fluorescent lights that added to the vampire twilight feel for the concert.
Their song “Winter Time” had a soft thumping baseline with the mood of a vintage ’80s classic. Homme crooned “You live till you die,” sending the large crowd to its feet, drawing energetic whistles and devil horns from the hands of the incarcerated fans.
They performed “Go with the Flow” off their 2003 gold album, Songs for the Deaf. The song is also featured on the video game Guitar Hero.
One of the personal moments for Homme at San Quentin was seeing a childhood friend, Bruce Fowler, a known prison artist. Both men grew up in the Palm Desert area.
“Seeing Bruce was absolutely incredible,” Homme said. “I mean, the surprise of that was wonderful for me. Because that’s a piece of home here for me.
“I’ve had my own troubles in my life and I understand the thin blurry line between being out on the streets and finding yourself in a situation—it really doesn’t take that much,” Homme added. “I’ve been there and I understand that, but I would say this: wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from bad decisions.”
The band consists of Troy Van Leeuwen, Michael Shuman, Dean Fertia, all guitarists and backup vocalists. Jon Theodore is the drummer. The band rocked the crowd with “The Way You Used to Do” and “The Evil Has Landed” from the Villains album.
Homme’s polished vocals blended superbly with the frantic drumming of Theodore and the guitarists’ high and low riffs. Their stellar playing inspired continuous standing ovations. One inmate even yelled “You got me going ‘White girl crazy’ out here.”
To end the band’s 45-minute set, they sang “San Quentin” to pay tribute to Johnny Cash’s iconic 1968 concert at the prison. The crowd exploded, showing appreciation for both these legends of rock.
“We have a relatively dark style of music, but it’s very personal, very emotional. That being said, I just hope I brought a little light. Just a little bit of light,” Homme said. “In all honesty, I’ll probably take more away than I’ll be able to give.”
Comedian Anthony Jeselink opened for the band and drew tremendous laughter.
“I’m famous,” Jeselink joked. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years. If you don’t know me, you must be in here for doing something really f*#ked up.”
Jeselink recently wrapped up his own tour. He also hosts the “Jeselink Offensive” on Comedy Central.
“Performing here gives us that renegade feeling,” Jeselink said. “We all have felt some kind of oppression. It’s like playing to your own.
“Everybody was so welcoming. You might be locked up but you are still in the mix and, just like everyone else, you guys deserve to be entertained,” Jeselink added.
The electronic rock group Deadsy was next to take the stage. The group hasn’t performed together in 11 years. But lead singer Elijah Blue Allman descends from pop and rock royalty; his mother is the legendary Cher and his father was Gregg Allman, of the Allman Brothers. So after a few tunings of his guitar, his 30-minute set flowed.
“Why not ‘come back’ at San Quentin?” he said. “My wife Queeny [King] played here back in March. We’ve been friends with some of the guys in Queens of the Stone Age for a long time. We wanted to do a special gig and this happened.
“Sometimes in life things just come about and that’s the best way. It happened here,” Blue added.
If the Queens of the Stone Age represented the vampires in a Twilight movie, Deadsy was like the werewolves. The group slowed down the musical pace. The stage lighting turned from red to green to purple.
Blue’s love-tortured vocals mixed with the group’s acoustic guitars on “Trouble.” He sang passionately, “The devil’s got my number, but I keep tell- ing myself everything is going to be OK.” Their song “Last Story Ever” received major applause and wild encouragement from Queeny King, who watched her husband perform for the first time.
Deadsy also consisted of Renn Hawkey, keyboardist; Alec Puro, drummer; and Carlton Bost, guitarist.
The ever-infectious Queeny King returned to play for her “boys” as she calls them. She added her brother David Lucius and friend DJ Kaos [Catherine O’Leary] to her alternative pop crew. The duo worked the turntables, while Queeny, singing rap-style, blessed each track.
“I wanted to debut my first show here because that was just on my heart to do,” Queeny said. “Friends of mine usually perform at the Viper room or the Peppermint Club, those sort of low-key trendy places, and I thought, I want to sing at San Quentin.”
Queeny has since performed at those venues but San Quentin still has her heart.
“My boys, the men, that’s my favorite thing about performing here,” Queeny said. “It’s really rewarding for me to do this. I just loved everybody I met.
“I made so many friends and everybody was so cool and I thought f*#k, I need to come back, absolutely,” she added.
Queeny performed “Loaded,” “Freak Show” and “Run for the Hills,” a song about going through rehab. But it was the crowd favorite, “Perfect Day,” that set hands waving and the men singing along.
“See I’ve come this far / made my own wish on a star / It’s a supercalifragilisticexpealidocious day / perfect day,” she sang.
To end this perfect day the entertainers mingled with the men in blue—capping off a magical night.