Foo Fighters | Milton Keynes Bowl | 5 September 2015
Dave Grohl is an enthusiastic guitarist. He’s an even better drummer. But what he’s best at playing is an audience.
Even confined to this Throne of Guitars, the instantly likeable Foo Fighters frontman has the entire Milton Keynes Bowl in the palm of his hand – whether he’s apologising sincerely for cancelling the band’s Wembley Stadium shows, trying to remember the words to a fan-requested song last performed three years ago (‘D.O.A.’), or simply commanding 65 000 people to “dance, motherfuckers” during his head-banging solo in ‘The Pretender’.
But it’s during one of the two-hour show’s quieter songs, a slowed-down makeover of ‘Big Me’ dedicated to the band’s lighting guy, that his sense of showmanship truly shines through. Despite having the biggest light show this side of Heathrow, the singer-guitarist-raconteur requests the outdoor arena be pitched in darkness and instructs the crowd to hold their phones aloft. The effect is, quite simply, breathtaking.
So too is the devastatingly beautiful rendition of 1999’s underrated ‘Aurora’, preceded by a heartfelt tribute to Rose, the fan who’s been in the front row at so many shows that Grohl admits he takes comfort in her presence. A simple gesture perhaps, but one that injects a rare sense of community – even intimacy – into the outdoor rock concert experience. Grohl makes tonight – and, more importantly, us – feel special.
Of course, he also delivers the hits. When the band come out of the gate with ‘Everlong’, ‘Monkey Wrench’, and ‘Learn To Fly’ it’s clear that they’re here to please. Radio staples like ‘All My Life’, ‘Times Like These’, ‘This Is A Call’, and ‘Walk’ reinforce that point, but the setlist is by no means predictable. There are a couple of treats from 2011’s ‘Wasting Light’ – an apocalyptic ‘White Limo’ and the yearning ‘Arlandria’. ‘Cold Day In The Sun’ shows off drummer Taylor Hawkins’ vocal talents. Well-worn calling card ‘For All The Cows’ gets a ragged runthrough. ‘My Hero’ fails to show up. The trio of ‘Something From Nothing’, ‘Outside’, and ‘Congregation’ showcase the depth and diversity of new album, ‘Sonic Highways’. And on ‘Under Pressure’ Queen drummer Roger Taylor and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones briefly transform the clearly giddy Foo Fighters into a “superdupergroup” living out their “rock ‘n roll fantasy”.
Yet, no matter the surprises that happen up on that stage, the effortlessly charismatic Grohl retains complete control. So by the time the night’s final song (‘Best Of You’, naturally) ends in thunderous applause and frenzied cheering, the assembled masses are as reluctant to let him leave as they are to go home.