Foo Fighters, Melbourne 2011 - Live review, photos
Who's saying what
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Friday 2nd December 2011
Foo Fighters are the last stadium rock band. A relic from a time when guitar bands were both relatable and deified by an improbably large audience, their contemporaries here in the '00s are either genre-tweaking explorers (U2, Radiohead); ever-slickened pop constructs (Coldplay, Muse?); similarly rooted (though notably much longer running) in a primordial goop (Metallica, Pearl Jam); or just outright "fakers" ("Bands with computers on stage doing shit that they're not doing," Grohl will say later tonight). They straddle the divide of generations primed on commercial rock music; sprung from the tipping point of the modern guitar rock canon and left now to lord it up in the rear-view mirror of everyone else moved on (or online). The last stadium rock band.
As such they also act as a particular cultural touchstone. Fans tonight are all firmly, maturely, "post-grunge" -- printed tees, denim, swarthy chests and swarthy chests. An equal spread of sexes. One guy has a shirt on his that says: "I'd go gay for Grohl." He might, but I'm not sure he'd feel as brash in this company should the singer turn.
The Foos come on stage while it's still light out -- no stirring backing music, no introduction. Just the stage lights down and the lone guitar chug that announces 'All My Life'. The quintet are grotesquely under dressed for a stadium rock show, and I wonder how on earth I know all five members names off the top of my head. For a large stadium resembling an upturned armadillo shell, the sound at AAMI Park is pristine. Everything snaps without grating, Grohl's vocals cut through perfectly and — although they're hard to distinguish — the three guitars trill with an unmistakable classic rock guitar sheen, the likes of which must take hours to perfect and yet sounds like everyone ever.
The unadorned stage — and men — finally kick into stadium mode during third tune 'The Pretender', as six oddly shaped audio-visual turrets descend above the band and flicker to life, while Grohl launches himself onto a giant gangway that, as a bludgeoning, mass singalong take on 'My Hero' quickly demonstrates, runs from the lip of the stage, through the crowd and cleverly continues on through the mixing desk tent. It extends another 10 feet out into the audience in the back section; the effect of which turns the back half of the stadium into the front half. Pretty cool. "The Foo Fighters don't fuck around," says Grohl before launching into 'Learning to Fly', the hangnail moon now stopped in the finally darkened sky. "We've got a lot of fucking songs and we're gonna play them for you tonight."
Grohl is excellent at this everyman-writ-large schtick. And that's why we're all here aren't we? A force of charisma who also happens to be installed in the Great Narrative of music folklore. Despite an expanded jawline that only appears to be visible thanks to an artfully placed beard, the man still has the stamina and ADD-like presence of an excitable teen. Ex-teen, he concedes. "This one goes out to all the old Foo Fighters fans," Grohl says, prior to altering the opening lines of There Is Nothing Left To Lose single 'Breakout' to "You make me dizzy running circles in my head / One of these days I'll chase your 40 year old ass down." More tireless running out into the crowd cues screams, phones aloft and further spotlight wrangling. Stadium rock has irrefutably been left in safe hands.
Drummer Taylor Hawkins (who on video screen close-ups looks to be entirely made of sinew) stirs the crowd with the Freddie Mercury a capella bit from Live Aid before taking on lead vocals for 'Cold Day In The Sun', leading into Grohl addressing the crowd in a way that endears, as much as reminds how often the Foos do play to a billion humans. "This is the biggest show we've ever played...in your city. Thank you so much." It's bassist Nate Mendel's birthday, prompting the stadium to erupt in a cacophony of sludgy "Happy Birthdays". "What the fuck was that?" says Grohl mock-disgusted. "Were you guys singing 'Happy Birthday'? Because what it sounded like was, 'HEERGGGH GHHGHGERRR BBBBEEEERGHDEEERGH'."
'Stacked Actors' has Grohl and guitarist Chris Shifflet trading guitar heroics from opposite ends of the stadium, the singer having run down to the end of the gangway, the tip of which now rises hydraulically a further 15 feet in the air, giving Grohl a second pulpit. (It's notable that Grohl is the only one to ever leave the stage proper, all other band members stay firmly in their spots throughout.) The two throw licks at each other over distance, the lead guitarist mockingly raising his arms in triumph after each solo burst. It's a goofy but hilarious gag that sits perfectly with the throng -- they eat it up. This is how you do stadium without the lasers. You make people laugh and you make people rock.
'Monkey Wrench'' further proves you can't play a hit song to 30,000 people without drawing it out for extended solos; a surprising highlight is the coiled blast of 'Let It Die' from Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace; 'These Days' from newie Wasting Light is introduced by Grohl as being his most "favourite song I ever wrote," and that "don't be surprised if you see yourself in the video for it." Thing is, 'This Is A Call' still sounds like the best song he ever wrote, its coda finishing up with a Hawkins' sung 'In The Flesh', the Pink Floyd tune they played with Roger Waters himself just a few months ago on Fallon. It sounds massive, makes you want the lasers, now. Meaning the only thing they can reasonably follow it up with is their lighter-in-the-air, kiss-your-partner/bros, look-at-the-sky-and-wonder-why-you'd-ever-want-to-be-in-a-critically-acclaimed-indie-dance/folk/ska-band-for-god's-sake, dealbreaker of 'Best Of You'. People everywhere take photos of a song.
That could have been the entirely reasonable end of the show. But with the stage still in darkness, the screens light up with a green night-vision camera on Grohl and Hawkins huddled somewhere below the stage. They mime "one more" to waves of cheers, holding their ear to the camera to illicit further roars. It devolves into the two faux-disagreeing on how many new tunes to play, the camera panning back and forth between the pair's Laurel and Hardy gag. Grohl emerges alone with an acoustic (never the Foos strong point) for an energy-dissipating 'Wheels'. "What's with all you people up the back?" he cracks afterwards at the open-air stadium's back wall. "Are you all on dial-up or something?". Moments later some goof is caught by security racing across the expanse between the seats and general admission, Grohl spots him and invites the guy up onto his podium. "What's your name? Ryan? We've got Ryan up here tonight because he's got shitty seats! *cheers*...Now get the fuck off my stage!" Ryan lives, Grohl perfectly inhabits the everyman rock star. Or just is. "I used to get nervous before shows like these," he says, alone above the crowd, enveloped in the spotlight's beam. "Now I don't because I feel like I should be down there and you up here. This is 'Times Like These.'"
Nothing in the encore ('Generator', the Queen cover 'Tie Your Mother Down') comes close to the accumulated tension of the main set, so it's lucky Foo Fighters have one song from the rock scriptures to come: 'Everlong' suspends time. The one composition here that could be pulled apart and mutated across genres and generations and still have its DNA proved perfect. The band bows and exits, leaving Grohl alone on stage to wave to the stadium. His stadium. Right at the last second, a fan somehow finds his way over the barriers and races towards him. Security lunge, and as all parties meet in the middle, Grohl hugs the fan and pats him on the back before sending him on his way. And it felt just like that.
Marcus Teague (Follow: @marcusTheVine)
(Pics: CC Hua)
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