Foo Fighters - The Stadium Of Light, Sunderland
Ahead of their imminent Glastonbury headline slot, Foo Fighters are fired up, full of hits and on crowd-pleasing form
There is no grand entrance, no overblown fanfare, not even a hint of pomp and circumstance. Dave Grohl simply guns it onstage from behind a curtain, grinning like a child who’s just rung a doorbell and scarpered. “Are you ready?” he growls. “Are you fuckin’ ready?” 45,000 people answer resoundingly in the affirmative. “It’s gonna be a long fuckin’ night…”
So begins two-and-a-half hours in which Grohl appears personally invested in making sure that every single person in the Stadium Of Light has the time of their life. His old band were notoriously conflicted about giving their audience what they wanted but Foo Fighters seem to live for it, to the extent that they open with ‘Everlong’, the song they usually close their sets with. Next follows a barrage of hits – from ‘Monkey Wrench’ to ‘Learn To Fly’ to ‘The Pretender’ – so relentless that Grohl is obliged to act as a sort of profane personal trainer (“Do you need a break? I don’t need a fuckin’ break!”). The inference is clear: here, on the opening night of a month-long European tour ahead of their Glastonbury headline slot, we’re all going to have our cake and eat it, too.
Watching the 46-year-old Grohl as he works a stadium, you’re reminded that he’s arguably the closest thing this generation has to a Springsteen: a blue-collar, crowd-pleasing icon you could imagine yourself having a beer with, seemingly chiselled from the same rock ’n’ roll Rosetta Stone and sharing a similar penchant for epic set lengths. The line in ‘My Hero’, “There goes my hero, he’s ordinary”, could almost have been written about Grohl himself, and the fact that he performs it whilst sporting a function-over-fashion fleece pullover borrowed from one of his roadies only serves to underline it.
Nor is there any over-reliance on production; indeed, by the standard of these types of shows, it almost seems spare, with the band determined to provide their own fireworks. “This might be a stadium, but to me it’s a fuckin’ party,” Grohl declares at one point. The closest they come to novelty is a brief covers section, in which they’re grouped together on a tiny rotating stage in the middle of the catwalk, playing a selection of songs that “made us want to become musicians.” It’s rough, and more than a little slapdash – Grohl forgets many of the words to AC/DC’s ‘Let There Be Rock’, while his attempt at hitting Freddie Mercury’s high notes on ‘Under Pressure’ goes about as well as you’d expect – but there’s an earnest, goofy charm to it, akin to watching the world’s biggest wedding band.
Don’t let that fool you, though: when it comes to hitting the notes that actually matter, the Foo Fighters are up there with the best of them. “We learned how to be a band by coming to your country and playing all your festivals and theatres,” says Grohl, tugging expertly on 50,000 heartstrings as he introduces ‘Big Me’. “The first time we headlined a festival, I believe it was here. The first time we headlined an arena, it happened here. And the first time we became one of these bands,” he says, gesturing to his cavernous surroundings, “it was here. If you want, I guess you can say that we’re yours.” Shameless? Most definitely. But insincere? With Grohl it somehow never feels that way, even when his very next breath is to admit, “When I go to Brazil, I’ll say we’re theirs, too.”
The final third of the set is a heads-down race against the clock: having earlier promised to deliver a 30-song setlist, they eventually fall short of that number, with four songs cut because of a looming curfew. “We don’t do that shit where we walk offstage and pretend like we’re not coming back,” he explains before ‘Times Like These’, and he simply doesn’t have five minutes to waste by making people call for an inevitable encore (note to all bands: if Foo Fighters don’t need the adulation, then neither do you). They end on a rousing, eight-minute version of ’Best Of You’ which leaves the terraces chanting and swaying in unison. It’s a sight the band are probably used to by now, but Grohl still takes a moment to drink it all in, hands on hips, grinning from ear to ear. When they take it to Worthy Farm in a month’s time, his grin will probably be visible from the top of Glastonbury Tor.
It’s been a “long fuckin’ night”, just as they promised it would be. It’ll be an even longer fuckin’ month to wait until the next time we see them.