The only previous time I’d seen the Foo Fighters was when they closed the main stage at T in the Park in 2011. That year they released Wasting Light and truly had the momentum with them, featuring as headliners on various festivals that year including the BBC’s Big Weekend in Carlisle.
They performed for around 2 hours at T, playing basically a ‘best of’ set, which if I remember correctly featured a number of songs from Wasting Light.
Fast forward to 2018 and I was fortunate enough to have had a Foo Fighters ticket bought for me for one of their UK shows, of which there was only going to be 3 dates, so as expected they were sold out within minutes.
It’s fair to say that I’d not really followed up on the momentum of 2011 and my interest in the Foo Fighters waned slightly. Certainly I had not been waiting in anticipation for their follow up albums, Sonic Highways or Concrete and Gold. It’s difficult to say why really, as even now I consider Dave Grohl to be the epitome of cool and still have Everlong on every Playlist I create. Perhaps it was the introduction to other new bands or more appropriate music for me at that time as I remember 2011 and 2012 were particularly tough years for me for one reason or another, and as any music lover will tell you, quite often it is music of a particular band or artist that you attach yourself to, that gets you through these particularly tough times.
Come the day of the show I’d still not made my mind up as to whether I was going to go, even though I’d taken leave from work. Once I’d had a coffee and gotten my shit together I made the decision to go and quickly threw some clothes in a bag and booked a train ticket. The usual push and pull coastal train from Whitehaven to Carlisle was cancelled due to on-going strikes and a shuttle bus was provided instead. This was much to the annoyance of one gentlemen who surprisingly conveyed his opprobrium to the bus driver due to the journeys late start, stating “What time are we setting off like? We’ve got a connection to make you know…”
Arriving in Manchester, I’d booked myself into a Hostel in the Northern Quarter. Hostels for anyone that doesn’t know are a great way to meet people of like-minded or open minded opinions. Travelling to gigs solo is never a big deal for me as it is for others, but hostels do offer up the opportunity to meet and speak to people with similar interests. In our 8 bed mixed dorm, there were 2 others travelling to see Foo Fighters; a 24 year old Biomedical Scientist from Dundee who was experiencing Manchester, hostel life and a solo gig for the first time in her life. The other was a Foo Fighters veteran of 10 shows, from Newcastle.
The previous weekend I’d been in Manchester for a more intimate gig at the Gorilla bar on Whitworth Street. The Bronx were playing in-between their appearances at Download Festival on Friday night and the Electric Ballroom in London on the Sunday. I feel like The Bronx set the standard for live shows for me now in terms of the passion and energy. After every show where I’ve seen them play the whole event has left me feeling euphoric - so the Foo Fighters would have a lot to live up to. Of course, it’s not a competition.
At the Ethiad Stadium, the place was rammed, estimated to be between 40 and 50,000 people in the stadium. My seat in the South stand gave a spectacular view of it all and I was sat next to a couple from Cockermouth, which wasn’t surprising as it seemed that half of Cumbria was at the gig if Facebook ‘check-ins’ were anything to go by. Although, wasn’t everyone at Knebworth in 1996 when Oasis famously played?
The Foo Fighters kicked off the night with All My Life, a tremendous opener and a song that would make it onto any gym workout playlist. I guess that is what is good about the Foo Fighters, the fact that they produced up tempo aggressive and edgy rock songs. What did get my goat though was the fact that they drifted off into a slight melody halfway through the song. I was always under the impression that there was a certain formula for a live set list. The opener was always expected to be a fast paced aggressive song played from A- B in order to stamp the intention of the show for the night. Instead I found the meandering melody / call-respond section, a break down in the momentum.
There can be no doubt that Dave Grohl has written some entirely epic rock songs. The Foo Fighters set list for this show was testament to that, but too many times these powerfully energetic rock songs had their sharp edges blunted by pitting the set list with what I thought was far too many melody meandering, call and respond sessions and overly extended band member introductions.
What I realised was that the crowd was full of over 40’s. And of course I am over 40. But it seemed like this was Mecca for the over 40’s. This was Disneyland for the over 40’s in the crowd. Every comical face pulled by Dave Grohl, every time he raspberry’d down the microphone, he was greeted by an almost embarrassing round of sycophantic style appreciation and applause. It was almost cringe-worthy. I remember thinking that there would be no way he’d get away with this in a more intimate and younger environment. Perhaps that;s the beauty of charging so much for an attendance ticket.
At one point during a crown call and respond session – I was blown away by the volume of the crowd during their respond part. Only to have this thought utterly dashed by the on stage introduction of backing singers! I couldn’t believe it! I’d let the fact slide that they’d introduced a keyboard player as part of the group, but now they had introduced a part choir in 3 lady backing singers. It was becoming more and more like a U2 concert.
I must say, in order to give this article a balanced view, that the musicianship and dedication to provide people with their money’s worth was second to none - it had to be at ~£70 per ticket. It was also pointed out to me that Dave Grohl is slowly losing his voice and that he has been told by medics that he should no longer carry out his trademark screams. I for one could not tell that his voice was going and certainly wouldn’t have noticed if I had not been told. And for this, I think he needs a pat on the back. My two favourite Foo Fighters songs were played at the back end of the set list. Both songs, Best of You and Everlong were two important songs to me during the tough times of 2011 and 2012 as I described earlier. The passion in Dave Grohl’s voice in Best of You gives a relatively basic song an extra dimension and always gives me goose bumps. Everlong simply speaks for itself and like The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary, will simply go down in music history as one of those perfect songs applicable to any generation.
I may be a harsh critic. And I certainly do not wish to be inimical in my review of the Manchester show, as there is obviously a considerable market for the Foo Fighters and objectively, they deliver what is expected. It is just a far cry from the sweaty, mosh pit filled academy sized halls I prefer where I feel bands and the audiences are still sharp and maintain their sharp edge.
But I guess that is what is so beautiful about music. Like the world, it takes all kinds to make it go round.