Foo Fighters at Glastonbury 2017 review – rockers cruise to middle of the road

Dave Grohl’s neo-grunge rockers play their early hits with ferocity, but you can’t escape the blandness of the ballads that follow

Time was when Foo Fighters would play a festival tent and have fans scaling the poles in order to get to glimpse them. From the ashes of Nirvana rose a neo-grunge band whose joyous melodies and ebullient punk energy charted a new course through alt.rock: anthemic but with a low-slung grittiness. Decades on, as Saturday’s Pyramid stage headliners, there isn’t that same sense of urgency, only the odd hint of what – apart from their legacy – once made them so special.

The night begins with a nod to what might have been two years ago, when the Foos were slated to headline Friday night at Glastonbury 2015. Days before, tousle-haired frontman Dave Grohl broke his leg on stage in Sweden, bumping up Florence + the Machine to the top of the bill. Florence played a Foos song, Times Like These, in her barnstorming set, so Grohl pays generous tribute by playing it back to her. And then the band come crashing in.

They deliver a “rollercoaster” of a set, says Grohl, and he’s not wrong: at times he and his smartly shirted rockers – including human smile Pat Smear and long-time Foos guitarist Chris Shiflett – feel so deeply entrenched in MOR balladry that any throwback song feels like a rare treat. Their latter-day choruses are the kind now heard on football terraces; as if to underline the monster they’ve created, the huge crowd won’t stop singing the “whoa-oh-oh” refrain to their breakup ballad Best of You, somewhere in the middle of their set. At first the show seems to seamlessly tie together their riffy bangers; but then it begins to chug, weighed down by their so-called “slow dance songs” (Wheels) and Walk.

And yet you cannot fault Foos’ fierceness. They play most songs, however underwhelming, with the gusto of a group having their first garage band practice. Drummer Taylor Hawkins in particular is mesmerising – whenever the camera closes in on his gurning face, sweat is flying, along with his unrivalled drum fills, and it’s especially fun when he swaps drums for the main mic with Grohl to sing a cover of Bowie’s Under Pressure. Other minor highlights: My Hero is dedicated to Michael and Emily Eavis, as well as Katy Perry; whenever they have a jam, which looks like they still genuinely enjoy rocking out (quite often); the unexpected accordion solo from key player Rami Jaffee.

Taylor Hawkins on drums.
Taylor Hawkins on drums. Photograph: Smiejkowska/Rex/Shutterstock

Grohl is still the ever-charismatic frontman, feeding the crowd lines between songs about having a party, how the crowd are “fucking beautiful”, and, of how they want to carry on playing a little longer and their audience should stay till the bitter end, “I understand that the EDM tent is going to be full…” It’s as if he hasn’t clocked that they are part of the same commercial coin. But perhaps there’s hope yet. New song Run from forthcoming ninth album Concrete and Gold takes a surprisingly gnarly turn, with a bassline that ploughs sexy new depths and luxuriates in some major fretwork in the breakdown, as if Grohl is channeling Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age.

Their vintage songs are the ones that still hit hardest – and those are not just the words of a nostalgia bore. They dedicate closing track Everlong to “Laura” – presumably Laura Plane, a teacher from Devon, a lifelong Foos fan who recently died after a cancer battle and whose husband Grohl had reached out to. As the fireworks fizz in the background, it’s a reminder of the true emotional pull the band can have.


Kate Hutchinson

The GuardianTramp

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