Eight years ago, Dave Grohl expounded on his famous sense of goodwill and musical fraternity to the Guardian. If the Foo Fighters were playing a festival, he said, he made a point of touring the other artists’ dressing rooms, bottle of whisky in hand. “I don’t give a shit,” he said, “you could be Demi Lovato or the fucking drummer from Pantera, I don’t care – let’s have a drink.”
Clearly, this is an attitude that Grohl shared with the Foo Fighters’ late drummer, Taylor Hawkins. How else to explain the bill at the first of two tribute concerts organised in the wake of his death in March? It swerves wildly, serving up mainstream pop next to tricky prog rock, metal beside Britpop.
Mark Ronson performs a beautifully dreamy acoustic version of Valerie with Grohl’s daughter Violet on vocals. Then comes a video message from Billie Eilish, followed by AC/DC’s Brian Johnson singing Back in Black and Let There Be Rock with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich on drums. The surviving members of Rush perform the knotty instrumental YYZ on a stage that earlier saw Nile Rodgers doing David Bowie’s Let’s Dance with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme on vocals. Kesha delivers a killer cover of T Rex’s Children of the Revolution – her polite “thank you” at the end is so at odds with the rawness of her performance that it is greeted with a ripple of laughter – and Supergrass barrels through Alright. Hawkins, it seems, loved them all.
It’s a curious and curiously entertaining bombardment of music, with Grohl the linking factor. He turns up so often, in so many roles – playing bass with the Pretenders, and with Wolfgang Van Halen and the Darkness’s Justin Hawkins performing Hot for Teacher; providing vocals for a version of the Police’s Next to You with Stewart Copeland on drums – that you wouldn’t be surprised if he appeared behind the counter in one of the food stalls, handing out nachos.
Occasionally it offers an object lesson in how the music tastes and cultural inputs of American alt-rockers differ from those of their British fans. The audience seem cheerfully baffled by the appearance of Hawkins’ all-time favourite band, the James Gang, who have reformed specially for the occasion. The 1960s-70s power trio featured Joe Walsh, who would go on to join the Eagles, but the crowd give every impression of never having heard their proto-metal boogie rock. Augmented by Grohl on drums, their hit Funk #49 sounds fantastic.
The audience are on safer ground with the surviving members of Queen, the first band Hawkins saw live. There’s no sign of current vocalist Adam Lambert: instead Eurovision star Sam Ryder – by Grohl’s account a late addition to the bill – delivers such a masterly version of Somebody to Love that you rather imagine Lambert watching at home, frantically scanning the terms of his contract.
It ends with a set by the Foo Fighters themselves, augmented by a succession of special guests: drummers including Blink-182’s Travis Barker, 12-year-old internet sensation Nandi Bushell and Hawkins’ 16-year-old son Shane; Paul McCartney, who duets with Chrissie Hynde on a version of Oh! Darling and rampages his way through Helter Skelter.
But for all the assembled auxiliary star power, it’s hard to take your eyes off Grohl, who seems to be struggling. His voice cracks as he sings the intro to Times Like These and he turns away from the microphone, the crowd filling in for him, before wiping his eyes and collecting himself in time-honoured Dave Grohl style: “Come on,” he bellows, “you motherfuckers.” It’s an emotional shift that keeps occurring during their performance, which swings from overwhelming sadness to catharsis. Certainly, there’s a weird energy to These Days, on which the audience take up the refrain of “it’s alright” before Grohl kicks back in: “It’s easy for you to say it’s alright,” he howls.
He ends the show performing Everlong alone. The crowd sing along and intermittently provide a beat, as people are wont to do at huge stadium gigs, but again, there’s a strange emotional charge to it, as if the audience are urging Grohl along, willing him to get through it, which he does. Then the day’s entire strange cast take the stage together, leaving you in no doubt that Hawkins will be desperately missed.