Tension and curious chatter subside with a swagger and wide grin from the man of the moment – Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters has arrived. Grin discarded, Grohl screams into the mic with all his might, holding it indefinitely until lowering into a hardcore growl. “This is it!” he hollers, and plunges into ‘White Limo’. The thousands of bodies pressed tightly into the field all wriggle to get closer, shuffling furiously in order to be able to see, dance and share the moment all at once.
Before we know it, ‘All My Life’ is in full swing until an abrupt halt during which Grohl swings his guitar low and reclines, staring at the crowd. Another short sharp grin and we’re off again – “On and on I’ve got nothing to hide -Then I’m done done on to the next one!” And so they are – ‘Rope’. Despite the fast transitions, each track is given time and dedication to play out the instrumental gems we’ve come to love them for over the years. Head-banging in the spotlight, Grohl is an iconic sight and sporadic bursts of screaming erupt in adoration.
Poised parallel for ‘The Pretender’, Shiflett and Grohl hold a pose usually found gracing the walls of hard rock venues. We are told “I’ve been here before” and with no further explanation Grohl enters banter with “naked guy, I love you”. Naked guy transpires to be half dressed in female viking-wear and as he threatens to remove the clothing the words are retracted – “I don’t want to see that much!” Half the audience have clambered onto the shoulders of less fortunate friends and a clash of interests makes one group’s mosh-pit another’s opportunity to crash further towards the stage. As the cameras pan they literally cannot find the perimeters of the sea of people.
Taylor Hawkins is given the limelight on drums, not that he needs to be offered it, however the support from the rest of the band creates a show all of his own. Not shy about introducing others, Grohl states the best thing about having Hawkins in the band is “How good looking he is“. “This“, Grohl states, “Is to be our last show for a long time“. The bass drum quickens and ‘Learn to Fly’ ensues. Arms outstretched skywards, the comedy of the accompanying video is forgotten as the song takes us back in time..
Riffs and arm gestures are used to drum up the crowd during ‘Arlandria’ and softly sung lyrics “hush hush” cause a gentle ripple of “shhh” through the audience in a spell which is interrupted by the collective guitars. The opening notes of ‘Breakout’ instigate the crowd to sing the entire opening as the first bright red flare of the set is sparked among the crowd and can be seen travelling in large circles throughout the track, contracting and banging back to full flame repeatedly.
This apparently makes a great posing opportunity as Grohl takes his time scanning the audience and then points to an individual who he proceeds to play to. Shifting attention back to the stage the band members are introduced, all conducted to a new dynamic of instrumental creation. Hawkins treats Grohl to his own personal spiel at the end of which chants of “Dave Grohl” signify it’s time to move on.
There is a slight lull during ‘I’ll Stick Around’ as a member of the audience comments “It’s all old school”. That’s part of the pull of the Foos, and tonight is as much about memories for them as it is for their music. Leading us into a reflection of the life of the Foos we are introduced to one of the youngest members of he Grohl family, daughter Violet during ‘Walk’, written when she was a toddler learning to do just that. Tapping away on the speaker she is sat on with ear protectors a voice in the crowd says – “she’s got her own tunes playing there“. Comical as the thought is, the lip synching gives away her involvement in the set.
As ‘Generator’ kicks the crowd are strangely subdued, however the gravelly undercurrent of ‘These Days’ breathes life back into the set. It is apparent that close to the main stage is overbearingly hot during this unusually long set as the crowd parts to make way for a man who has fainted, swiftly followed by large groups seeking more space towards the edges. There is a long pause before lyrics “easy for you to say” accompanied by wild head-thrusting and hair-whipping returns the frenzied normality.
Continuing the family theme, ‘Monkey Wrench’ is played to a cautious three year old Harper Grohl who edges towards the stage as her dad kneels down to her with his guitar and a bang and array of glittery chaos ensue as the band leave the stage.
The expected encore begins with ‘Times Like These’ which perfectly releases the evident emotion felt as the 35,000-strong audience sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to his mother as they did 22 years ago at Reading Festival. This, Grohl states, is the “most important day of his life“. An assortment of older Foo tracks top off the evening with a harder edge that takes a sharp mellow turn before ‘Exhausted’ which we are told “is how we always finished our gigs“.
Then roaring, “this is how we finish them now!” Grohl introduces ‘Everlong’. Even young children perched on parents’ shoulders are still actively involved in singing along to the final track of a set that represents a band close to the hearts of thousands.
“If everything could ever be this good again” is a particularly poignant thought tonight. Things will, of course, but perhaps never quite the same, as we say goodbye to the Foo Fighters for the foreseeable future, under a blitz of fireworks.
As the late Neil Armstrong once professed, the heartbeat is for savouring, and in the final moments of Reading Festival 2012, ours has skipped a few times.
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