FOO FIGHT­ERS

Dave Grohl crowns a tri­umphant look back with par­tial Nir­vana re­union.

Q (UK) - - Contents - EVE BAR­LOW

When you’ve got your own fes­ti­val like Dave Grohl has, you can play all the Nir­vana cov­ers you want. Cue wild scenes.

FOO FIGHT­ERS

CAL JAM 18, GLEN HE­LEN RE­GIONAL PARK, SAN BERNARDINO, CAL­I­FOR­NIA SATUR­DAY, 6 OC­TO­BER, 2018 ★★★★

Now in its sec­ond year, Cal Jam 18 is Dave Grohl’s own fes­ti­val. Part rock bo­nanza, part back­yard cook­out, it’s a place where he gets to dic­tate the line-up, the bar­be­cue and the af­ter­party. Dur­ing the day you’ll spot him in a cow­boy hat run­ning be­tween stages, catch­ing his friends’ sets. Come night­fall, he lets his mane down and straps on a gui­tar for three hours. There are other bands here, of course, but this is very much Grohl’s party. To be at Cal Jam is to ru­mi­nate on the jour­ney rock’s had since Grohl was sat on the drum stool for Nir­vana. Even the most de­vout rocker wouldn’t ar­gue that gui­tars have the same rel­e­vance in 2018 as they did in 1994. When Garbage’s Shirley Man­son takes to the stage, Butch Vig – Nev­er­mind’s pro­ducer – at her side, she ad­dresses her com­rades: “To all the bands who go against the grain when they won’t play us on the ra­dio, when peo­ple say gui­tars are dead, we’re will­ing to turn back the tide!” Some of those still fight­ing here are from a younger gen­er­a­tion: Cana­dian noiseniks Metz, Bri­tish punks Slaves and Michi­gan rock­ers Greta Van Fleet. The lat­ter are three shirt­less broth­ers (plus a non-re­lated drum­mer) who don waist­coats and feathers. Their songs are ti­tled An­them and Flower Power. Their so­los last longer than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. Think the Jonas Broth­ers do­ing Robert Plant. “They re­mind me of my era,” says a mother to her unim­pressed daugh­ter. When Grohl was lis­ten­ing to Bad Brains as a teenager, punk was about tear­ing down the sta­tus quo with no re­gard for longevity. It’s un­likely he would have en­vi­sioned a fam­i­lyfriendly af­fair such as this, com­plete with com­edy rock duo Tena­cious D. Re­minders of rock’s past are man­i­fest, most no­tably Iggy Pop, who brings his Post Pop De­pres­sion band with QOTSA’s Josh Homme and Arc­tic Mon­keys’ Matt Helders to the party. With his leathered torso closer to E.T.’s than the snake-hipped rebel of his Stooges days, Iggy’s caught be­tween el­der states­man and ado­les­cent, limbs whiplash­ing to the pum­mel of songs taken largely from his ’ 70s Bowie-pro­duced al­bums.

He em­bod­ies rock’s re­fusal to age. “Fuckin’ thanks for check­ing us out,” he says, sound­ing like a new act open­ing for his heroes.

Cal Jam 18 feels more like a cel­e­bra­tory bash than a rock reprisal. Back­stage, an enor­mous pig roasts on an open fire. At­ten­dance here has two pre­req­ui­sites: you play gui­tar, you eat meat. Both should be done with bare hands. When later the Foo Fight­ers play Walk, Dave Grohl rag­ing, “I never wanna die!” over and over, it’s like he’s speak­ing on be­half of rock mu­sic it­self. The Foos’ head­line set is an ap­po­site blowout, made up of all their hits in re­verse or­der. Tay­lor Hawkins drums in swim­ming trunks. Three songs in, he shoots up on an el­e­vated plat­form, lit­er­ally tak­ing it to the next level. Grohl ad­dresses the crowd be­tween ex­tended jams of these alt-ra­dio favourites. “I fuck­ing love rock’n’roll,” he says while work­ing through a stack of plec­trums. He ded­i­cates Ar­lan­dria to his “mom”, who gives a wave from the side of the stage; Best Of You in­spires echo­ing “whoaoh-oh”s; and the run from Learn To Fly to Mon­key Wrench is breath­less. At the end of a pul­sat­ing two-hour main course, a grin­ning Grohl asks, “You want some treats?” Rumour had it that the apex of this year’s event would be a homage to Nir­vana, the band who put Grohl in this po­si­tion in the first place. And so, for the fes­ti­val’s fi­nal 30 min­utes, he re­turns and sits be­hind the drumkit. Krist Novoselic ap­pears and straps a bass on. Gui­tarist Pat Smear fol­lows. For the open­ing three num­bers – Serve The Ser­vants, Scent­less Ap­pren­tice and In Bloom – John Mc­Cauley from Rhode Is­land rock out­fit Deer Tick apes Kurt Cobain’s snarl as the sur­viv­ing mem­bers rip through the mu­sic with all the vigour of three decades ago. An awk­ward­ness hangs in the beer-drenched air, though. It’s not so much a mo­ment of con­nec­tion be­tween play­ers and crowd, more an air­ing of in­di­vid­ual mem­o­ries, like sift­ing through old pho­tos to­gether with jux­ta­posed emo­tions. While Mc­Cauley nails the vo­cals, it’s like watch­ing a YouTu­ber par­rot lick for lick. Grohl seems aware. “John, every­body!” he re­peats, bait­ing ap­plause for a man who, it must be said, hardly any­one recog­nises. Grohl then asks ev­ery­one to give it up for “one of the great­est fuck­ing rock’n’rollers… Joan Jett!” Jett feels

“I miss play­ing those Nir­vana songs. I miss be­ing that drum­mer. It’s dif­fi­cult ter­ri­tory.” Dave Grohl

more ap­pro­pri­ate. Her in­ter­pre­ta­tion is less of a fu­tile at­tempt by a fan step­ping into Mes­sianic shoes. In­stead, it breathes life into Cobain’s songs. The crowd are merely happy to claim their at­ten­dance. They take In­sta­gram videos. “I wanna hear a cheer for some­body,” says Novoselic, chok­ing. “Cheer for Kurt Cobain.” Lis­ten­ing to the col­lec­tive re­sponse feels strange: a root­ing for some­one who you imag­ine would have felt un­easy about an event like this. “I wish I was like you,” sings Jett on closer All Apolo­gies. “Eas­ily amused.”

Less than 48 hours later, Dave Grohl is on the way to the air­port. “I’m just re­cov­er­ing,” he chuck­les. “I texted my man­ager: ‘How did we do?’ He said, ‘At­ten­dance was great. God­damnit, those peo­ple par­tied hard. The fuck­ing beer ev­ery­one bought!’” Cal Jam’s ethos is rooted in friend­ship and fam­ily fun. Grohl’s eldest daugh­ter even sang back­ing vo­cals dur­ing Foos’ set. “I camp in an RV for three days, spend time on the lake fish­ing, dance with Billy Idol, wake up and have honey but­ter Pop-Tarts. Then try to keep from los­ing it be­fore play­ing at the end,” he says. This year’s event was es­pe­cially hec­tic for Grohl. When not run­ning be­tween stages, he was grab­bing 20 min­utes with Novoselic and Smear in a re­hearsal space. Four years ago, Nir­vana were in­ducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. They in­vited St. Vin­cent, Lorde, Kim Gor­don and Jett to in­ter­pret vo­cals. Af­ter­wards, it con­tin­ued at a club. J Mas­cis got on the mic. Mc­Cauley sang too. “I never thought we’d do it again,” says Grohl. There will al­ways be those who feel it could never be a Nir­vana show with­out Cobain, though. “It’s dif­fi­cult ter­ri­tory,” of­fers Grohl. “It’s wrapped up in beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries and sad­ness. Krist and I have dif­fer­ent feel­ings about it than other peo­ple. I miss play­ing those songs. I miss be­ing that drum­mer.” Novoselic and Grohl jam Nir­vana’s cat­a­logue in pri­vate some­times. “That mu­sic lasts for­ever. We share it with some­one. Some­one is miss­ing. You never for­get that for one sec­ond. When we’re back­stage run­ning through them, Krist, Pat and I look at each other and the mood goes in waves. You’re hit with sad­ness, then you crash into a eu­phoric re­lease.” He sighs. “I’ve had the same dream for 24 years – that I get to play these songs again. Sit­ting be­hind the drumkit count­ing into In Bloom, do­ing the fill at the start of Smells Like Teen Spirit. It only hap­pens once in a blue moon but it still feels good. It’s com­pli­cated.”

For Grohl, this year’s fes­ti­val was all about lead­ing up to that re­union. “I couldn’t wait to do it,” he says. “Through­out the Foos’ set I was run­ning and scream­ing for two hours, think­ing, ‘I hope I sur­vive this so I can get on to the next.’” The day af­ter he tanked. “I was fuck­ing de­stroyed,” he laughs. “It’s hard to fuck­ing talk about but it’s a bond that Pat, Krist and I had. In those mo­ments I won­der if we’re say­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the au­di­ence.” He stam­mers. “It was a trip. I should have just said that.” At the start of the night Dave Grohl set out his in­ten­tions: “Tonight we’re go­ing through the years. How far back you wanna go? You wanna go all the way?” This year Cal Jam’s his­tory les­son is that rock goes so far back it can never be­long to just one guy. Cobain once said: “Want­ing to be some­one else is a waste of the per­son you are.” Tonight Grohl wanted to be Nir­vana’s drum­mer. His crowd wanted to be Nir­vana’s fans. Their rea­sons may have dif­fered but the songs re­mained the same.

“I fuck­ing love rock’n’roll”: Foo Fight­ers’ Dave Grohl sets his stall out, Cal Jam 18, San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, 6 Oc­to­ber, 2018.

Pop­tas­tic: Iggy’s Post Pop De­pres­sion band (with Josh Homme and Matt Helders) at Cal Jam 18.

Gui­tar heroes: (left, main pic) head­lin­ers Foo Fight­ers on the main stage; (right) Joan Jett and Krist Novoselic join Grohl for a se­lec­tion of Nir­vana tracks dur­ing the en­core.

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