The Foo Fighters returned to Adelaide for a three hour lesson in how alternative rock brats can grow into legacy rockers while still taking the piss.
“This is gonna be a long night motherfuckers, you know that right?,” Dave Grohl announces a few songs into his band’s first Adelaide show in almost 3 years. He’s right — we’re in for three hours with one of modern rock’s biggest bands, and given the crowd’s enthusiastic response to repeatedly being called “motherfucker”, everyone seems more than ready for it.
Before this though, fellow 90s survivors Weezer work through a collection of their greatest hits, from their self-titled debut and Pinkerton highlights Say It Ain’t So and El Scorcho to Surf Wax America. Cuts from the last 14 or so albums they’ve released since most fans stopped paying attention are mercifully few.
Instead we’re treated to a cover of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind that highlights the lineage of their own brand of alt-rock alongside classics like Buddy Holly and Island In The Sun. Rivers Cuomo and co. clearly enjoy the novelty of playing to a giant catwalk that runs out into the middle of the stage, and their mix of humour, big 90s choruses and slabs of distorted guitars sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the night.
The sun is still up when Grohl and his bandmates stroll out onto the stage, grinning to the audience as they launch into Run, a high octane number from last year’s Concrete and Gold. Grohl’s piercing wail seems straight out of a basement hardcore show, and that punishing pace is continued by older hit All My Life. When Learn To Fly comes around the band seems to rub restlessly against the cruisey mid-tempo pace of this turn of the millennium FM radio staple. Clearly they came here to rock, and they get their wish a song later with thrasher The Pretender, which devolves into a wild extended instrumental with chugging blues riffs and extended guitar solos.
Not content to simply slide into the classic rock demographic by virtue of their grunge loving fan base growing into middle age, the band embraces the tropes and bombast of 70s rock, from duelling guitar breaks to extended roto-tom solos from drummer Taylor Hawkins. They even have a keyboard player up there, perched atop a barely audible mellotron doing god knows what.
Once the jokey kings of late 90s alt rock, known for satirical videos and radio hits full of the intrinsically goofy phaser pedal, it makes you wonder how much of this arena rock posturing of c. 2018 Foo Fighters is tongue in cheek. Certainly the line’s become blurred by the eighteenth drum solo, as Grohl and Hawkins mug and ham it up for the cameras that feed into the massive screens around them. It’s like a musical dad joke with a really long set up, and the punchline is Hawkins’ drum riser levitating ten metres in the air.
Either way, the fun they’re having is sincere — you can see it in Grohl’s shit eating grin as he runs back and forth across the stage, and in the indefatigable consistency of Hawkins, who keeps the band anchored in those wilder moments. Even Grohl’s stoic one-time Nirvana bandmate Pat Smear flashes a few smiles throughout the night.
But it’s the strength and sincerity of their work, rather than their ability to lean into the theatre and spectacle of the arena rock show format that fans are here to see. It’s never more true than during Best Of You, one of Grohl’s most affecting anthems and a transcendent moment at the tail end of the night as the crowd bellows along, fists raised and previous tour t shirts proudly worn. You can see in the crowd how much Grohl’s best songs have served as a motivator, companion and pressure valve in people’s lives, and from My Hero to Monkey Wrench he’s got a deep back catalogue full of them.
Touching on each of the band’s albums, they throw in a few special cuts “for the old school Foo Fighters fans” in the crowd tonight. Given the universally vocal response to songs like 1999’s Breakout and signature song Everlong, it does beg the question who on earth is just now coming to the Foo Fighters party in 2018. And with a near-sold out crowd still as loyal as ever despite three albums without anything approaching the crossover hits of In Your Honour a decade ago, it’s clear no one, from the band to the fans, is leaving the party any time soon.
Foo Fighters and Weezer performed at Coopers Stadium on Tuesday, January 23
Photography: Sia Duff