Foo Fighters @ Leeds Festival 2019
Twenty-seven years on from Nirvana’s headline slot at the Reading Festival, a certain drummer-turned-frontman still finds himself somewhat shackled by the enormity of the grunge icons’ performance on that Sunday evening in Berkshire in August 1992.
But some two hundred miles up the M1, the Foo Fighters have been able to write themselves into rock history at Leeds’ own edition of the festival – where no other band has topped the bill more times than Dave Grohl and co. Patronising as it may seem to regard tonight’s show as stadium rock by numbers – the fourth Foos headline outing since 2002 – the reality is that the band’s ability to serve up all-conquering, life-affirming rock ‘n’ roll marathons is merely their bread and butter – delivered with the same ease with which you might relocate the wheelie bin on a Monday morning.
Taking the Branham Park stage with little to no fanfare, Dave Grohl’s famous, wide-eyed grin greets the exultant West Yorkshire audience first, before the band launch into ‘The Pretender’ for a fiery opening. And yet for all the inevitability that the following three hours will be a spectacle in every sense of the word, there are moments of genuine magic scattered throughout this Foo Fighters celebration-cum-retrospective that elevate it to the realms of the extraordinary.
Whether that be the paraglider that took ‘Learn To Fly’ a little too literally – swooping dangerously low over the sixty thousand-strong crowd – or the stunning rendition of ‘My Hero’, as Grohl welcomes his teenage daughter, Violet, to the stage for a heartfelt father-daughter duet. It’s a humbling experience to see one of the most distinguished characters in rock reduced to nothing more than a smitten, doting dad, as he lovingly introduces Violet as ‘the best singer in the Grohl family’ and bows down before her at the song’s end – the fact that she does indeed have a hell of a voice is merely icing on the cake.
But any notion that the Nicest Guy in Rock really has gone soft is squashed by the time the six-piece tear through ‘La Dee Da’ – a bile-caked rager taken from 2017’s Concrete And Gold that belies its title. A regular feature of Foo Fighters concerts in recent years, Grohl summons Taylor Hawkins to the front of the stage and returns to his native drums, while Hawkins – the second most charismatic and accomplished singer in the sextet – wails his way through a spirited cover of Queen & David Bowie’s Under Pressure. Complete with an appearance by an audience member a little worse for wear sporting the full yellow leather jacket and pearly white bottoms Freddie get-up – handpicked from the crowd to strut and gyrate across the stage like the great man himself. Hawkins is quick to insist that this wasn’t a ruse.
With the likes of ‘All My Life’, a stripped-back ‘Wheels’ and a breathtaking, ten-minute version of ‘Best Of You‘ still to come, it’s impossible to pinpoint the show’s apex – at least until the band unleash ‘Everlong’, while fireworks dance through the clear Wetherby night sky. The only criticism you could possibly level at these guys after such a magnificent evening – and it’s barely a criticism at all – is that they’re a touch too modest when paying homage to their heroes – be it Queen or tonight’s thundering cover of AC/DC’s ‘Let There Be Rock’.
And should the alien-packed UFOs that inspired the Foo Fighters’ name ever descend upon Earth for a taste of our planetary arts, after twenty-five years and nine records, why shouldn’t we mention the Foos in the same breath as Queen and AC/DC? Based on tonight’s evidence, they’re equals.