Foo Fighters – Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester, June 15

Emotional rock singalongs, with sterling support from Courtney Barnett

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Opening for a band with a fearsome live reputation in front of 50,000 of their fans could present a challenge as well as an opportunity, but Courtney Barnett strolls on strumming her guitar as if she’s taking everything in her stride. Her slacker cool and sassy, distortion-tinged guitar pop is very well-received by an audience who can surely detect the subtle influence of Foos frontman Dave Grohl’s former band Nirvana.

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However, the Australian singer is very much her own woman, and she delivers witty songs about asthma attacks while gardening (“Avant Gardener”) or the realities of fame (“Pedestrian At Best”) as if she might be yelling at someone over a garden fence, were it not for her equally entertaining high-kicking and fret-melting extended guitar solos. “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” she sings, but in this vast space she lets nobody down.

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It’s only 18 months since Foo Fighters were coming to terms with what a statement called “the most difficult and most tragic year our band has ever known”, but they hit the stage with a venom that suggests they are determined to recover from the shocking premature death of longstanding drummer Taylor Hawkins. “I’m ready to kick your fucking ass, night two!” yells a very hairy 55-year-old Grohl on the second of their two nights in Manchester. 

The sound of this packed cricket ground singing along to ferocious opener “All My Life” makes for a startling introduction to an opening 50 minutes of blistering hard rock. Foo Fighters are no less than eleven songs in – some of their best known hits among them – before the pace finally drops for “My Hero”, its beautifully anthemic chorus providing yet another singsong. “I’ve got 50,000 backing singers,” laughs Grohl. “It’s not fucking Beethoven.”

It isn’t, but while the Foos are yet to enter an orchestral period, the set does veer refreshingly off-piste in places. What Grohl calls “deep cuts shit” ranges from rarely played songs such as “La Dee Da” or “Statues” – which is slightly and beautifully reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made Of Sand” – to the instrumental “Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners”, written for two Australian Foos fans who were trapped underground. 

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There’s even a lost treasure, “Unconditional”, unearthed on an old demo cassette and now given the treatment its darkly entrancing melody deserves. With blond-mopped former Devo/Nine Inch Nails drummer Josh Freese bringing machine-gun rolls and relentless energy to the enormous job of replacing Hawkins, big hitters “Monkey Wrench”, “Best Of You” et al make for a triumphant home run. However, some of the show’s later segments acknowledge the loss behind the band’s rebooted emotional power.

Grohl explains that they’re playing the hymnal “Aurora” every night because it was Hawkins’ favourite song, and the combination of the sunset and a sea of twinkling phones give it a haunting backdrop. 2023’s “The Teacher” is both a heartfelt farewell to Grohl’s mother Virginia, who also died in 2022, and a wider acceptance of mortality.

There’s a lovely and tellingly poignant moment when Grohl performs the sublime “Under You” – almost certainly about Hawkins – solo for only the second time. As he reaches the line “Someone said I’ll never see your face again…” he is suddenly unable to sing the rest of the verse, so the crowd do it for him. “Thank you for helping me,” he says, and seems to wipe tears from his face as he sighs, “Man, this is gonna look great on YouTube.”

Setlist
All My Life
No Son Of Mine
Rescued
The Pretender
Walk
Times Like These
White Limo
La Dee Da
This Is A Call
Sabotage/Blitzkrieg Bob/Whip It/March Of The Pigs
My Hero
The Sky Is A Neighbourhood
Learn To Fly
Arlandia
These Days
Statues
Under You
Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners
Nothing At All
Unconditional
Monkey Wrench
The Glass
Aurora
Best Of You
Encore
The Teacher
Everlong

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