[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...

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London N1 Scala


London N1 Scala

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.

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.