One, it would be emotional. And two, there would be drums.
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The first Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert (the second is in Los Angeles later this month) didn’t take long to deliver on either count.
At 4.30 p.m. sharp, the Foo Fighters emerged and, as Dave Grohl stepped up to speak, the crowd gave him a huge ovation. As he bowed his head, the applause grew. As he looked to the heavens, a chant of “Taylor! Taylor!” broke out until, eventually, he gathered himself sufficiently to promise “a gigantic fucking night for a gigantic fucking person.”
It certainly started big. Liam Gallagher swaggered out and – backed by the Foos, with Grohl pounding the drums harder than any Oasis drummer ever did – delivered the heaviest, most menacing versions of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Live Forever” ever heard.
In that opening address, Grohl noted that “no one could make you smile or laugh or dance or sing like Taylor could.” Even now he’s gone, it was clear Hawkins retained that knack, with a cavalcade of stars stepping out of their usual roles to pay homage to the drummer and his heroes.
To salute Hawkins’ beloved David Bowie, Nile Rodgers teamed up with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age (on “Let’s Dance”) and Gaz Coombes from Supergrass (on “Modern Love”). And Hawkins’ side projects, Chevy Metal and the Coattail Riders, called on guest vocalists Ke$ha and Justin Hawkins (no relation) from the Darkness.
Grohl himself was everywhere. He played bass as Justin Hawkins and Wolfgang Van Halen ripped through Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” He drummed as his daughter Violet sang a couple of numbers by Taylor’s favorite singer, Jeff Buckley. And he was also behind Homme and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones as Them Crooked Vultures stomped through Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” after Elton himself had popped up on the big screen (meaning Homme was Bowie, Elton and himself within a single night — a hell of a karaoke session).
“I hope you wore comfortable shoes,” quipped Grohl as proceedings reached the halfway point. “Because we’re not even close” to finishing. Inevitably, with such a long show, there were lulls, especially with the largely white, male line-up making few forays beyond the classic-rock canon.
But at its best, this show could make your heart do the one thing Taylor Hawkins never did: skip a beat. And so, as dusk fell after speedy sets by Supergrass and the Pretenders, the energy rose.
First, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich joined the Foo Fighters in backing Brian Johnson on a romp through AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and “Let There Be Rock” that was so joyous even Grohl noted it was worthy of ending the show.
There was time for the Police’s Stewart Copeland to give his own drumming masterclass on a Foos-assisted “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” before Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson played on stage together again to pay tribute to Hawkins and their “own fallen brother,” Neil Peart (Grohl himself played the drums, emulating a famous former Hawkins guest spot).
Given their lengthy history, Queen’s performance was less of a revelation, but Brian May and Roger Taylor also clearly tapped into their own feelings of loss over Freddie Mercury, who had his own tribute concert in this stadium just over 30 years ago. Luke Spiller from the Struts and Justin Hawkins both had a go at channelling their inner Freddie, but Eurovision star Sam Ryder was the surprise package, his all-in performance of “Somebody to Love” rendering Wembley almost as ecstatic as during some of Queen’s previous triumphs.
But for once, Freddie’s boots may not have been the hardest ones to fill. Because, while there could only ever be one band to close proceedings tonight, this was never going to be a typical Foo Fighters show.
It began with “Times Like These.” Already heavy with meaning after it found new resonance during the pandemic, no wonder Grohl’s voice cracked on the elegiac, almost a cappella intro. But the crowd stepped in to help him out and, from there on in, Grohl and everyone else celebrated catharsis in their most vibrant songs.
Yet filling Hawkins’ shoes was too much for any one person, so drummers from Travis Barker (“Monkey Wrench”) to Roger Taylor’s son Rufus (“These Days”) to Nandi Bushell, the 12-year-old girl who famously challenged Grohl to a drum-off (“Learn to Fly”), filled the seat at various points — and most impressively of all, Taylor’s 16-year-old son Shane Hawkins put in an incredibly gutsy performance on “My Hero.”
“If you knew how many drum kits are back there…” smiled Grohl, wistfully, at one point. “You’ve got to celebrate the drummers, right?”
Indeed — although the guests out front were pretty decent too. Chrissie Hynde and none other than Sir Paul McCartney joined the band for a live rendition of The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” then Macca stayed on for a tumultuous “Helter Skelter.”
“We felt all the love from you for Taylor tonight,” said Grohl, as he thanked the Hawkins family at the end of the night. “I don’t really know what else to say.”
Fortunately, he knew exactly what to play. “Everlong” was a reassuringly familiar way to end a long night, but it – and the colossal crowd singalong it sparked – has surely never sounded so poignant.
It was a send-off fit for rock royalty — and on an emotional, drum-filled night, it was good to know that his beat goes on.
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