As the train rolled into South Geelong station from Melbourne, the loudspeaker announced, “alight here if you’re attending the Foo Fighters concert”. Immediately the carriage, a sea of flannel and band T-shirts, erupted in cheers and whoops.
The celebratory mood carried through last night to Geelong’s GMHBA Stadium where, as they say, nature is healing. It was in the flashing signs around the stadium exclaiming: “WELCOME BACK STADIUM ROCK.” It was in paying $9.50 for a watery beer. It was in the ocean of clear ponchos to fight the drizzle, which turned swiftly into proper rain – fitting for the end of another kind of drought. It was in the guy selling bootleg T-shirts outside the venue, with a live rabbit perched on his shoulder. The only hint that this wasn’t the Before Times were the masks hanging off people’s wrists, promptly forgotten the moment they entered the arena.
This was a historic night for live music in Australia: one of the world’s biggest rock bands travelling especially to play a full-capacity, one-night-only stadium show to 30,000 people – in a regional city, no less. Announced just nine days in advance, the gig brought tourism back to the regions and large-scale live music back to the country, being the first concert of this size and scope in Australia since the pandemic began.
Dave Grohl and co kicked off the Victorian government’s Always Live initiative, showcasing live local and international music across the state. After a grueling couple of years for musicians across Australia, who were denied government support amid constantly cancelled gigs while large sports matches and religious mass gatherings continued, it’s more than overdue – though one has to wonder when similar opportunities might be extended to smaller, local acts, who are still struggling with little sign of salvation.
But if there’s any international act that’s apt for the job, it’s the Fooeys. The band’s love affair with Australia is long and storied, with this their 13th visit. Indeed, during the concert Grohl told the audience that the moment he learned Australian borders were opening, he was on the phone to his manager with a plan to be the first international band to play on our shores since 2020.
After blistering opening sets from local punks The Meanies and Amyl and the Sniffers, a single figure appeared on stage under a spotlight, looking out over a thunderous crowd. Tackling the opening lines of Times Like These a cappella before the band kicked in, Grohl proved his pipes – then proceeded to prove them over and over for the next two and a half hours.
It had all the hallmarks of a stadium rock show: smoke billowing across the stage, flashing strobe lights, raucous singalongs, phone lights swaying, ostentatious solos. Grohl let the crowd’s 36,000-strong collective voice take over on Breakout and My Hero, the euphoria palpable all around the echoing venue.
The charm of a band like the Foo Fighters is the agelessness and broad appeal of their meat-and-potatoes brand of rock, as well as the affability of the band members. Covers of Queen (Somebody to Love) and The Bee Gees (You Should Be Dancing, from their surprise 2021 tribute album) went down a treat, as well as note-perfect renditions of their own classics such as The Pretender, Learn to Fly, Best of You and Monkey Wrench.
Drummer Taylor Hawkins’ kit was printed with an image of Mushroom Group founder Michael Gudinski, who passed away last year. It was Gudinski, widely celebrated as one of Australian music’s driving forces, who dreamed up the Always Live initiative, headed up now by his son Matt. And it was to Gudinski that the band’s final song, Everlong, was touchingly dedicated: Grohl on his knees, he and the crowd singing the song’s chorus “if everything could ever feel this real forever”, as fireworks illuminated the blackness above. Forever is a long time, but here’s hoping.