The Foo Fighters (including one very special guest) proved that grief and loss aren’t forces to be overcome – they can be befriended, made part of who you are, and expressed through blown-out speakers, deafening riffs and drum solos at Auckland’s Go Media Stadium last night.
By their own words, the nearly three-decade-old band is not the same one that last stepped foot in Aotearoa nearly six years ago.
Seemingly insurmountable grief washed away the ground beneath the bands’ feet after longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins’ sudden death in March 2022, followed by the passing of frontman Dave Grohl’s mother Virginia Grohl later that year.
The NZ shows originally planned for December 2022 were promptly cancelled and for many months a future for the band seemed all but impossible, But Here We Are, as the title of the band’s newest album goes.
From the moment the six-man army ran on stage with instruments in-hand, their tight clasp on the Auckland crowd of 35,000 took hold, their grip not loosening for three straight hours.
“It’s gonna be a long night, motherf*****s!” he screamed to a roaring crowd early into the set.
In his autobiography The Storyteller, Grohl writes about embracing his aging self and becoming a “rusted-out hot rod, no matter how many jump starts I might require along the way”.
That was more than apparent at last night’s Auckland show; a slightly more greyed-out Grohl stood in front of a Kiwi audience for the first time since 2018, but his raw vocals and seemingly endless stamina suggest the 55-year-old hasn’t lost a single step.
The band began knocking out their greatest hits at lightning pace, including All My Life, The Pretender, My Hero and Best Of You, while also firing off newer, more emotionally-charged tracks from their new album, such as Rescued and Nothing At All.
Grohl, lead guitarist Chris Shiflett and keyboardist Rami Jaffee even took time to dial back the Foos’ rocking spirit and embrace the band’s more acoustic side through songs like Statues and Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners.
Tributes to the Foos’ favourite artists were sprinkled across the show and snuck in during band member introductions; riffs from The Beatles’ Blackbird and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid were slyly put in and around the bands’ hits, while bassist Mendel played the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage before guitarist Pat Smear grinded out the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop.
Behind the drum kit, a new face smiled with misty eyes as the crowd warmly welcomed him: Josh Freese, a session drummer and friend of the band who has performed live and in-studio with a plethora of acts, including Nine Inch Nails, Sting, Katy Perry and Michael Bublé.
As the Foos’ new drummer, Freese doesn’t bring the vocal chops or mop of blonde hair that Hawkins had, but his ability to harmonize with the band power is undeniable, and the sternum-cracking force behind his two kick drums and rapid licks radiated throughout the venue.
Once deep into the rock-filled night, the band passionately thrashed out their 1999 song Aurora, Grohl dedicating the heartfelt performance to Hawkins as an image of his hawk tattoo shone behind him, saying “it was the first song we wrote together, and he’s always said it was his favourite”.
Then, the biggest surprise of the night strutted out sporting a large beard and scorching phoenix on his chest: Jack Black himself.
The actor, who is currently in New Zealand to film the Minecraft movie, embraced his Tenacious D chops to belt out AC/DC’s Big Balls with Fiona, the Foos’ own drum technician.
After Black commando rolled off stage and the band stepped out for a breather, they returned for an encore including a 10-minute odyssey titled The Teacher, a poignant song dedicated to Grohl’s late mother.
“You showed me how to breathe, never showed me how to say goodbye,” Grohl somberly sang. “Try and make good with the air that’s left… counting every minute, living breath by breath, by breath by breath.”
As the evening drew to a close, electricity emanated throughout the Auckland crowd just as it had six years prior.
Taylor Hawkins and Virginia Grohl were alive when the Foo Fighters last visited New Zealand, but last night’s performance proved that though they have since passed on, their memories and essence still live on in every string the band plucks and every cymbal they smash.
Dave Grohl’s mother inspired him to make music, now she thrives within his lyrics and chords.
Even after losing their beloved hawk nearly two years, Grohl and company proved they still know how to soar.
The Foo Fighters, joined by opening acts Dick Move and The Breeders, will be playing at Apollo Projects Stadium in Christchurch on January 24, and at Sky Stadium in Wellington on January 27.