“Tonight we’ve gathered with family and his closest friends, his musical heroes and greatest inspirations to bring you a gigantic fucking night for a gigantic fucking person,” Dave Grohl said at London’s Wembley Stadium, kicking off a brave and emotional public wake for Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins.
Over the following six hours, 50 songs were performed by over three dozen artists spanning genres and decades. At the center, all the time, was Grohl’s personal grief; while no one onstage, backstage, in the crowd or watching elsewhere felt any different, Grohl took the lead every step of the way – and that’s what made the concert so unique.
it’s not often, especially in the 21st century, that so many people are offered or embrace the opportunity to come together like that. Even beyond the tragedy of Hawkins’ death at 50, it feels like there’s been so much to grieve over in recent years. Last night was a music-led catharsis in so many ways. Naturally opinions will differ on the best moments (and may change over time), but here are 10 ways Grohl and the extended Foo Fighters family helped give grief a chance.
“It’s times like these you learn to live again” was the line Grohl was always going to struggle with most. Starting “Times Like These” unaccompanied except for a touch of keyboards seems obvious, yet no one would have thought badly of him if he hadn’t done it. It almost looked like he couldn’t do it (Rami Jaffee must take credit for sensitively keeping his chords open, giving Grohl all the time he needed), and that in itself said as much as the words. Almost as soon as the band kicked in, it seemed like a massive weight had lifted from his shoulders. He looked tired – exhausted, even – but he’d just won a battle.
The final skirmish was closing the show with a solo rendition of “Everlong,” the meaning of its lyrics changed forever as he bade a final farewell to his friend: “If everything could ever feel this real forever / If anything could ever be this good again / The only thing I’ll ever ask of you / You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when.”
The fact that there was no big encore, just a grateful and familial bow from everyone who’d performed, made the point beautifully: The wake is over; life must continue; and it’s time to go home without the one we lost.
Ever since Wolfgang Van Halen began building his own career, he’s come under pressure to connect with his late dad’s work onstage. “I’m not fuckin’ playing ‘Panama’ for you guys,” is how he summed it up in 2021. It’s completely understandable – but when he came out to honor old friend Hawkins, it was an opportunity to honor Eddie Van Halen too. The time must have felt right to grab what appeared to be the last guitar Eddie used in concert and cover Van Halen classics “On Fire” and “Hot For Teacher,” with help from Grohl and Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins.
It looked as if he couldn’t quite believe he was doing it at one point, while Hawkins held his mic under the guitar and Grohl, playing bass, looked on devilishly with encouragement. Following the success of Wolfgang’s debut Mammoth WVH album, many feel he has nothing left to prove – that number increased dramatically with the point he made via his dad’s music as he worked to lay two ghosts to rest.
It wasn’t clean or neat, but it was possibly the most rock ’n’ roll part of the show. AC/DC singer Brian Johnson and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich let it rip with “Back in Black” and “Let There Be Rock” in a set that included mic and drum problems and a certain amount of technical inaccuracy. But Grohl loved taking part, as did Ulrich – and Johnson, who exhausted himself by never not moving throughout, was still laughing as he left the stage. Grohl pointed out that it wasn’t even nearly the end of the show, but it easily could have stood as such.
Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor have, of course, spent years honoring lost leader Freddie Mercury. Rush survivors Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson have had less time to process the passing of Neil Peart, but that mattered less than the lesson both giant acts illustrated with their sets: The show must go on. Most of the older artists during the show demonstrated a touch of age-and-wisdom attitude; it’s sad but true that those of us who are fortunate enough to live long find ourselves attending more and more funerals as time goes by. It’s not that people become less affected – it’s that they become more prepared to deal with it. When May went to the end of catwalk and asked the audience to help him with a solo “Love of My Life,” he demonstrated an understanding of the moment that made everything just a little bit easier.
They hadn’t played together in 12 years, despite intermittent talk of it, but when Josh Homme, John Paul Jones and Alain Johannes reconnected with Grohl onstage as Them Crooked Vultures, there was a beautiful ease that showed how they’d managed to work so well in the first place. Opening with a cover of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was a surprise that landed brilliantly, while Homme’s comfort at fronting the performance was remarkably pleasing. Meanwhile, Grohl and Jones kept sharing happy glances across the stage. When Johannes blew a kiss to his colleagues as their set ended, it felt exactly right.
While the former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher’s trademark swagger stood in stark contrast to the Foo Fighters’ stage presence, it was a smart move to have him start proceedings with his old band’s tracks “Rock ’n’ Roll Star” and “Live Forever.” Not only did the titles speak volumes about Hawkins and the point of the night; it also set the scene for a larger-than-life experience. While it may seem like an odd way to kick off, it’s difficult in retrospect to imagine anything better. Gallagher the rock star throwing his maracas into the crowd and swaggering off the stage was a stark visual presentation of what everyone was there to celebrate.
Kesha left everything but the animalistic side of rock behind her when she performed T. Rex classic “Children of the Revolution” with Hawkins’ Chevy Metal colleagues. She even growled and prowled as she did it. While the analogy of a drunk aunt at a family gathering might spring to mind, there was something much more honest and artistic about it. She wasn’t Kesha for those minutes – she was the spirit of angry, sexy, heavy music, and it was showstopping … even if it was in front of the kids.
And of course the kids are always around at big family gatherings, practicing “do as I say and not as I do” as their parents cuss and party while they make do with soda and candy under the table. Only this was a rock concert. Violet Grohl’s genuine nerves lent an additional beauty to her voice when she covered two Jeff Buckley tracks then performed “Valerie” with Mark Ronson. Oliver Hawkins, Taylor’s son, provided another emotional moment as he proficiently hammered “My Hero” with the Foos; and his youthful overexcitement was fun to watch, especially when Grohl had to stop him from talking through the main mic at the end of the show. Nandi Bushell’s guest spot was another sweet but powerful moment. Homme’s young son running across the stage during the Vultures set, then being carried off at the end by his dad, was another still. There were many small reminders that it was a family wake, but seeing the kids in action was among the best.
Bearing in mind that Smear was a touring member of Nirvana when Grohl lost Kurt Cobain, it was touching to see how he kept a watchful eye on his old friend as they both dealt with tragedy repeating itself. Smear hardly ever stopped smiling and in the difficult moments he was right there beside Grohl. When the end of the show came, his gentle pride and affection in what Grohl had achieved said so much about why they’ve worked together for so long. That’s to say nothing of Smear’s seamless musicianship all night, along with his fellow Foos.
Multi-star concerts can be disastrous, especially backstage. It’s almost impossible that they’ll run to schedule, and it’s always possible that tempers will flare, leading to more issues. The Hawkins show was notable for being a very smooth production – yes, it ran a bit late, but the time was absorbed by the Foos shortening their set, and everything that needed played was played. The stage management team and all the various crew are to be congratulated.
It’s easy to imagine things came close to going wrong more often than we’ll ever know, but it’s also easy to imagine that the shared determination to make this one work brilliantly united everyone in a spirit of a professional family. It’s not easy to imagine how the second show, on Sept. 27 in Los Angeles, could be run any better – but times like these will tell.
Foo Fighters Albums Ranked
From the one-man-band debut to their sprawling, chart-topping classics, a look at the studio releases by Dave Grohl and band.