[a]Foo Fighters[/a] lower down a drumstick and haul you out from the cynicism ditch. Which means you can say, with no shame at all: they are Band. Hear them rock...
In simpler times they probably would have been marked down as The Definite Article. Nowadays their detractors, dizzy on the fresh-distilled possibilities of eclecticism, irony and crossover, dismiss them as Just A Band. Grammatically speaking, though, neither have got it right. It’s more starkly primitive, more undeniably atavistic than that. Quite simply, [a]Foo Fighters[/a] are – grrr – [I]Band[/I].
Look at Dave Grohl in his ‘I Love The Soaps’ T-shirt and Jim Henson-designed charm, untethering his smoky-dive-matured yowl, or Taylor Hawkins, well-muscled surf replicant hitting the drums so hard that earthquake alerts shut down King’s Cross: if there was ever a case for rock’n’roll as a gene, a pathology, a need, here it is.
You look at too many bands and see undercover accountants, craven ‘how-may-I-help-you?’ public servants. Grohl and friends look like the gang who’ve just rolled out of their mom’s garage, still at the secret pot-smoking, ‘turn-that-racket-down!’ stage, glowing with American good health like some hyperreal post-Watergate [I]Happy Days[/I] remake. Eclectic is what guitars are. Crossover is what happens when you have to park your truck opposite the liquor store. [a]Foo Fighters[/a], they wouldn’t know about that. They just know about – guitar-bass-drums-go! – [I]this[/I].
This far down the line, it’s a fantastically well-maintained illusion. The volatile line-up, the celebrity circus, the MTV palatability, the feud-ridden post-Nirvana relationships: these are not the starry-eyed credentials of the perfect vacuum-sealed model band. You look at Grohl, grinning with kid-like glee at the uncanny Taylor lookalike in the crowd, giving a good impression of being open to requests, mocking the English accent – and you know that his past must have left some scars on his soul, that this easy, ordinary guy thing could unravel like so much frayed denim.
Tonight’s one-off set is being filmed for a TV special and was originally going to take place in a studio until, Dave informs us, they decided it would be more fun to play in front of an audience. “Yeah, that’s right,” he agrees with an appreciative front-row fan, “because I [I]am [/I]a fuckin’ dude.” And he is.
Not just because of the unforced older-brother crowd-teasing, the lack of concern about cool that sees him placing the entire microphone plus plastic FX tube in his mouth to get the wah-wah vocal noise of ‘Generator’; not just because you’re pleased to hear every one of his songs; not just because ‘Monkey Wrench’ and ‘Breakout’ are full-throttle in an entirely Donald Campbell style. Grohl‘s a dude because he lets you believe that some people are in it for all the right reasons.
Never mind the spite-bomb of ‘Stacked Actors’, when he returns to the drumkit motherlode and lets Hawkins – blondly introducing himself as “the annoyingly wacky drummer” – sing Pink Floyd‘s bilious ‘Have A Cigar’, a lofty attack on sharky showbiz insincerity, you can see why it’s close to their cymbal-shaped little hearts. Most telling, though, is the childish black magic marker scrawl of ‘Robbie Williams Band’ on the bass drum. The message is clear: we would never, ever play with you. We’re rock. You’re… nothing. Given the post-Brits mood of Robbie worship, the giggly, arch acceptance of any old pop nonsense, it’s nice to know the old school still teaches the best lessons.
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It’s this experience that ensures that, even as the drums are annexing your inner ear, nuance doesn’t just become the stuff of a lunatic’s dream. Like a hardcore growler with a book of sonnets under his pillow, there’s more to these songs than strident riffs and adrenaline poisoning.
It’s not a matter of changing pace completely – the least successful song is the dreamy ‘Across The Universe’ thrum of ‘Ain’t It The Life’ (Dave: “I’m so sensitive”) – but mining out the complexities, digging for emotional depths like a gemstone in granite. The hurtle and pelt of ‘I’ll Stick Around’ and ‘This Is A Call’; ‘New Way Home’ building like a bulldozer; the contortionist’s twists of ‘For All The Cows’: they breathe with a melodic ease, a touching vitality.
Helpful elves and frog princes probably have more credibility than the rock dream but for one night only, Foo Fighters lower down a drumstick and haul you out from the cynicism ditch. Which means you can say, with no shame at all: they are Band. Hear them rock.