America’s finest arena rock bands hit the UK to compete in the name of drum battles, anthems and massive explosions
Friday night in front of a drunk SECC and the Foo Fighters’ first stab at elephant-sized touring since ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’ has officially landed in a suitably cavernous venue. The Foos are now so big that Dave no longer needs the serious rock fans who, the larger his band get, seem to trust him less. But it only makes him want their approval more.
Bang! ‘Let It Die’ opens with a whoosh and an assurance that this thinly-veiled Kurt’n’Courtney parable is now their signature tune. ‘The Pretender’ – their fieriest single ever – thuds after it and the message becomes clear; tonight, the Foo Fighters mean business. Until now you could argue that they’ve never really meant business, but anyway… Out the corner of our eye we swear we can see Pat Smear until we blink again and it’s just his replacement Chris Shiflett with peroxide hair – we must’ve been seeing double.
“I’m not bullshitting you!” howls the lupine Grohl. “This city has the best fucking crowds in the world!” Bang! The McCartney moment. Yet, before we can dwell on it, the stage extends into the middle of the arena for the Unplugged moment. And, yup, now it’s Pat Smear, on a mission to perform at every acoustic performance Grohl ever plays and easily the second-biggest star onstage. Unfortunately, Foos acoustic are fine but inessential: ‘Marigold’, ‘My Hero’, and Taylor’s ‘Cold Day In The Sun’ moment.
And then the band leave and the penny drops as to why we get ratty about Grohl. The fact that, for the past five years, he’s insisted on playing his best-ever song, ‘Everlong’, on his bloody own! Grohl teases out the opening chords and lyrics alone: the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as you await the onslaught that never comes. Every single time. Seriously, the only real glitch in the Foo Fighters’ live armoury is the way Grohl lets himself piss away such a holy moment for the sake of an ego trip (sorry, solo segment). It should sound even better than ‘Monkey Wrench’, which follows when the others re-emerge, but is just swallowed in the vast gloom.
The momentum is amped appropriately with ‘All My Life’ – a song you appreciate much more when you realise that QOTSA’s ‘Sick Sick Sick’ was basically ripped off it – and ‘This Is A Call’, a song who’s awesomeness can only be described by the words two drumkits. And then… “Note to self,” gurns Grohl between missiles, “come back to Glasgow and make a live record!” The audience go even more insaniac than they were before as the red mist of cynicism descends upon us again: does he really mean that? But, as it’s near the end of the set, it’s time for Grohl to wheel out ‘Aurora’ and the place explodes, blowing away all our weary rock journalist doubts. That’s the thing with Foo Fighters: you can think about it or you can have a brilliant time. The question mark isn’t over whether Grohl can be smart and nice, it’s over whether one man can consistently power one of Earth’s biggest arena rock bands and not be an evil genius. Because if he isn’t, then he’s a very special man indeed.
A couple of days later – for no reason other than the fact that catching America’s two biggest touring rock bands in the same weekend is fun – we find ourselves in a Newcastle enormodome watching My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way stand, halfway between goblin and Prometheus, bellowing at his audience.
“I am very, very unimpressed with you lot right now!” His eyes are burning as his band fire up ‘Dead!’ Still nothing. “Still unimpressed!” he howls. It’s like he’s both the equal and opposite of Grohl, and this is unusual behaviour for a man who’s spent his whole career making motivational speeches about how suicide is not the answer. Is Gerard changing?
The reason for his black mood could be the tumultuous time the band have had recently. No sooner did his brother Mikey return from his own domestic leave than drummer Bob Bryar’s ongoing wrist complaint flared up once more and he had to head off home. Hours after the show, guitarist Frank Iero will also quit the tour, due to a family illness.
Not that Gerard’s fazed. Earlier, he’d explained that, after their costumed, animatronic tour as alter-egos The Black Parade, they’re back to their old selves. And the very first thing that happens when My Chemical Romance come on is a vast explosion of fire, heralding their charge into a brand new, untitled song that steers clear of any Lloyd Webberisms and is followed by its closest cousin, ‘This Is How I Disappear’. Their statement is simple; they’re moving on. The band’s dressed in simple black and there’s no stage show to speak of, but there is still loads and loads of fire. This lot have always been powered by trauma but now, after some lacklustre festival shows, they don’t need the makeup. If anything, it’s a blacker parade as even the camper tunes seem to have more iron in their soul. As ‘Teenagers’ (still their best song) clatters into life he bellows, “Who said you could start clapping?!”And then the encore. A Creedence Clearwater Revival cover, a cloudbursting ‘Helena’ and even more fire. It’s been a phenomenal 18 months for sure, but MCR have come out the other side as the imaginative face of stadium rock. Gerard’s cut out the Trisha-talk because he doesn’t need the adulation any more and now they’re coming for the rest of the world. And if they can do that, then this is a very, very special band. In which case, Grohl might want to watch his back.