Story by Gray Shades.
Why can't we do this regularly in America? I mean really, is it that hard or is our makeup so different from the influential island nation from which we sprang that we can't create the ascendant, primal, festive rock 'n' roll atmosphere? Don't get me wrong, Coachella is a festival par excellence, a spring time feast to send you back to your local town of inhabitance ready for summer music season. Bonnaroo is pulling off the morph from niche jam-band haven to all-encompassing rock free spirit, and Lollapalooza has reinvented itself for a new generation that is attempting to set a new bar. These seem to be the exceptions (along with New Orleans Jazz & Blues Fest and Austin City Limits), not a regular norm as they are overseas. The names alone conjure amazing days out: T In The Park, Oxygen Festival, Roskilde, Reading, Hyde Park. Summerstage is fun in NY, but where is the grand triumphant moment like London is seeing all week long? What about smog land of LA? San Francisco? All great music towns but confined to typical radio shows at existing venues. Where's the public space feel of the rock experience?
It's a beautiful, sunny, fantastically bright Saturday in London and 85,000 people are flooding Hyde Park to enjoying a stand-alone rock show. Later this week, the likes of The Strokes, James Blunt and Depeche Mode will be headlining various days of the five daylong O2 Wireless Festival, which is taking place in Hyde Park, and over the weekend in Leeds (Massive Attack and The Who will be headlining there). But today it's Foo Fighters day in the sun. They sold the tickets, created the bill and handled the production (lasers, 40ft. High video projection, bringing their own BBQ). By the time Juliette & the Licks hit the stage shortly before 4pm, the festival area is easily half full as Londoners soak up the sun, booze and BBQ. We're just walking in, in time to see Angels & Airwaves take the stage for a set of challenging, meandering rock sound, guiding the rambunctious crown through a set of songs which do a lot of building, only occasionally completion.
Queens of the Stone Age make their way to the Hyde Park stage for only their third proper gig in months. One can hardly tell as they blister through a set with the staples ("No One Knows," "Go With The Flow", "Little Sister") and the stalker pleasing ("Mexicola", "Monsters" & "Burn Witch"). Queens loom large in such a setting a fore-bearer of rock's present and future at the same time; perfectly positioned between next to their alt-metal crossburn cousins Motorhead and Foo Fighters-shredding speed tempo thunder mixed with sweet after dinner drink of quality hooch. Later Josh Homme and Dave Grohl are seen manning the BBQ for hungry backstage hangers-on.
Out in the field during Motorhead, two things cross the mind: 1) the sound needs to be louder, it's Motorhead for fuck's sake!!! and 2) Looking at Lemmy on a 40-plus foot high video screen is the thing children's nightmare's are made of. I immediately look to see if any locals have papoosed their children for the evening's show. On stage Motorhead is the same band I credit with a damaging hearing loss 20 years ago when I saw them back to back nights at The I-Beam in San Francisco and One Step Beyond in Santa Clara. I was a Tower Records' clerk then and earplugs seemed a useless accessory. That's no longer the case, but the subdued volume (London noise restrictions, perhaps), keep them in the pocket as the world's coolest Uncle pound through an unrelenting set. "Over The Top" is there, new stuff,"Train Kept A Rollin'" and of course the fire starter "Ace Of Spades," still punishing and all rock groove lo these many year on. Juliet Lewis and a band mate join for some background vocals while donning t-shirts that read: "Fuck Elvis. Lemmy is the King Of Rock 'N' Roll."
Finally, it's halftime of the violent US-Italy World Cup match and Foo Fighters step on stage to a roar heard over the jets at Heathrow. The first four songs ("In Your Honor," "All My Life," "Best Of You" and "Times Like These") are a battle between the Foos and the 85,000 who are going completely nuts: fists and beer cups flying in the air, a large chunk of the crowd singing every word. Epic Stuff. Dave Grohl acknowledges the band's excitement to the crowd, noting this is "the biggest fucking show we've ever played and it feels pretty fucking cool." "Breakout" and "The One" back to back (and true hits in the UK over the US) pulsate the what's left of the setting sun in the night sky and set the stage for the first guest appearance of the night: Lemmy joining Foos on stage for the Probot (Dave Grohl metal project of 2004) song "Shake Your Blood." It's tight, as though they'd been pummeling it out for weeks on end. "Stacked Actors," "My Hero" and "DOA" all keep the crowd at top level and preclude a tremendous conclusion: a full-on crowd sing-a-long to "Monkey Wrench" followed by the second guest visits of the evening. Brian May and Roger Taylor (their from Queen kiddies) walk on stage for the encore with Foo Fighters and a little Queen classic called "Tie Your Mother Down." Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters' drummer) sings and dedicates it to Freddie Mercury, who Taylor is sure is watching from somewhere, while Roger Taylor teases the crowd at the start by pumping out the opening beats to "We Will Rock You." Yet another difference between England and the US-nearly every one of the 85K people know who Queen is and know Brian May and Roger Taylor on sight. During "Tie Your Mother Down," May, Grohl and Chris Shifflet (Foo Fighters' guitarist) trade guitar lines on the catwalk in the crowd as cameras flash everywhere, women on boyfriends shoulders. You don't see this any day, let alone every day. Foos end it with a mainly Dave Grohl-solo "Everlong," under piercing green lasers and a clear London night sky. Why can't we create this here again?