Of all the bills for the Foo Fighters to play this summer, it must surely rank among the oddest. The band will be making their UK return – one that has been “waaay to long” in coming, they’ve admitted – at The Invictus Games atop a list of bands who, on the face of it, have almost nothing in common with them.
Blog: Why Foo Fighters playing with the Military Wives makes sense
Dave Grohl's plan to play a gig with Ellie Goulding, James Blunt and the Military Wives has upset some fans. Relax, says Tom Bryant...
Underneath Dave Grohl’s band, the acts include the pop singer Ellie Goulding, the Ashley Banjo-led street dance troupe Diversity, hip hop pop group Rizzle Kicks, the soulless pop of The Vamps and the Military Wives Choir – the group of servicemen’s spouses put together by the TV presenter Gareth Malone who are most famous for singing a Gary Barlow song.
It’s hard to see quite how the Foos’ peerless All My Life – a song about licking a lady’s special place – might fit in. Though, given some of the Military Wives’ other halves may have been away on active service for some time, you suspect some of them may be keen to find out.
It’s a bill that has had keyboard warriors and furious social media outrage experts up in arms. How could Grohl be selling out this way? But as much as the pop aspects of the bill raises eyebrows, elsewhere things make more sense. Ryan Adams is also set to play and he and Grohl have much in common. They’ve played together before, notably at a tribute concert for the Husker Du man Bob Mould, and both share a childhood that involved hardcore punk. Adams recently revisited that by producing Fall Out Boy’s surprisingly enjoyable tribute to hardcore Pax Am Days, while the Foos returned to one of Grohl’s adolescent hardcore haunts, the legendary Washington DC punk venue the 9.30 Club just the other month. Arguably, too, the Foo Fighters’ music has more in common with Adams’ thoughtful alt. country now than it ever did – 2005’s In Your Honor was half acoustic and, ever since, Grohl has veered more towards songwriting than plain old riffs.
Also on the bill at the Olympic Park are The Kaiser Chiefs, old Foo Fighters touring buddies from years ago, and James Blunt who, no matter what you think of his music, does look as though he enjoys life absolutely as much as possible. Anyone who can respond to a Twitter troll who told him “my grandma just called James Blunt queer” with the quip “Only coz I turned her down” is probably worth having a pint with backstage.
But, more importantly, the Foos have more or less earned the right to do whatever the hell they like. I interviewed the band in 2007 shortly before Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace came out. For no good reason, we started talking about Neil Young and how he was one of the few artists to have simply carried on doing what he did without fear of the consequences. Grohl reasoned that was why people still liked him. “If we could carry on going like Neil Young, who’s still going with class and style, then that would be a great way to do things,” added the Foos’ bassist Nate Mendel. “He’s still creative, he’s got a lot of integrity and he plays great show.” It was clear they looked up to him and you could argue that the Foos are ageing just as gracefully as the old man of rock.
Young is someone entirely unafraid of playing with who the hell he likes. The annual Bridge School Benefit he organises has featured the likes of Vanessa Carlton, Josh Groban, Hootie And The Blowfish and Tony Bennett alongside Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Arcade Fire and Tom Petty. It seems to be a lesson the Foos have learned and certainly Grohl has been fearless about working with people he just happens to dig: soul pianist Norah Jones (Virginia Moon), jazz guitar virtuoso Kaki King (Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners), The Beatle’s embarrassing dad Paul McCartney (Sound City Players’ Cut Me Some Slack) to name but a few.
While the Foos have clearly not had a say in who plays The Invictus Games, the fact that they’re happy to play on such a seemingly peculiar bill points to their way of working. During that same 2007 interview, Grohl asked me what I thought of the punk band Against Me! – this was just after the brilliant New Wave was released. I told him I loved the album, and for the rest of the day he asked everyone he met. The response was overwhelmingly positive. A year later, the band were opening for the Foos at Wembley Stadium just because Grohl thought they were alright. Alongside them were The Futureheads, partly because they and the Foos had enjoyed getting pissed together on the festival circuit in 2005. It’s just the way Grohl works – if he fancies doing it, he does it. If he likes you, he’ll give you a leg up. And what better way is there to make music or live a life than that?
He once told me the entire foundation of the Foo Fighters was built on one thing alone. He started making music, of course, following the death of Kurt Cobain and the end of Nirvana as a kind of release valve. Initially, there was never any thought of releasing it.
“You have to remember that this band started on the basis of making music that no-one was supposed to hear,” he said. “That’s always been at the root.”
And if that’s the way you started a band that went on to sell well over 10 million albums, win a fistful of Grammies, and become worldwide household names, then why the hell would you not play with the Military Wives’ choir because a couple of people on the internet think it’s a bit weird?
It’s a reminder of something else Grohl said in that 2007 interview about how the Foos work, something that tells you all you need to know about how they work.
“The reason we work well as a band, is that we all keep it simple,” he said. “We try to run this organisation as though we’re a garage band. I hate the feeling of being swamped by minders and security. I hate being hustled from room to room like a diva. That upsets me, I hate it. It’s nice to just show up early, stay late, hang out and play music. All we’re doing is playing rock music – it’s important not to lose sight of that.”
That’s the reason he’s playing The Olympic Park with Ellie Goulding: because this is just rock ‘n’ roll.