As the people of Geelong found out a few days ago, if you’re gonna bring back big shows – really big shows – to a country starved of even your run-of-the-mill gigs, you can do a whole lot worse than bring it back via a Foo Fighters show.
And come November and December the non-Geelong parts of Australia and New Zealand will be able to see it up close again themselves. Yes, there's an Australian tour in the offing. (See end of this story for details.)
How do those things work from the other side of the stage? As Wind Back Wednesday takes a trip up the M25 and M1 from London to find out, it starts with an attitude. And no, that doesn’t mean attitood. In fact, it means the opposite.
Pull up a stool at Ye Olde Fighter’s Arms pop-up-pub and listen to a story about man, his mates and good intentions.
WANT TO KNOW THE SIGN of a big band that knows what it’s doing? We’re talking stadium sized band here, the biggest of the big, the ones who already are legends or figure they are set to compete with legends.
A band like the Foo Fighters, who in the words of their songwriting front man Dave Grohl are "just trying not to fucking blow it” now that they’re at the level of their first all stadiums tour of Australia, a country where their most recent album, Wasting Light, went to number one and they’ve sold almost two and a half million albums, singles and DVDs. (Yes, we like them. A lot.)
It’s not the sound quality: they should have that right for the money they (and we) pay. It’s not the playing: you’d like to think they know which end of the guitar to hold onto and how to get to the bit hit chorus. It’s not even having the songs: frankly, by the time you’re playing stadiums and giant outdoor venues, your songs are popular enough to satisfy tens of thousands of people and your job there is done.
No, the real sign is behind the stage. Take a look at backstage area at the Milton Keynes Bowl, a tree-lined amphitheatre a few hours outside London, where the Foo Fighters this year spent a weekend playing to 65,000 fans.
It’s not even in the same postcode as your cliched big rock band den of iniquity. There is an on-ground, fully operational pub, Ye Olde Fighter’s Arms, its beers on tap and pinball machine matched by Victorian fairground games, specialist pizzas being made and some very comfortable leather lounges.
Across the lawn from the pub is a red double-decker bus and an old red phone box (which guitarist Pat Smear will later emerge from jokingly complaining "that's not a real phone") while a kids’ funhouse leads the way to a separate, comfy-chair filled Astroturfed courtyard where temporary rooms for each band member's family are decorated in individual styles.
The musicians, their families, hangers on and even freeloading journalists are treated well. There’s a band organisation here which not only acts like human beings to outsiders but does it without needing to think about it. It's grown up, it’s professional and it’s comfortable.
Which is even more reason why Grohl, guitarists Smear and Chris Schiflett, bassplayer Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins work so hard at making what happens on stage anything but comfortable.
For a start, they will play for three hours - about half the new album and hours of favourites. No shortcuts for anyone in a show which is relentless in its energy but punctuated by goofiness and occasional antics directed at the far corners of the space, or as Grohl puts it metaphorically, “that person up there by that fucking tree".
"If there is no curfew, it's almost like runner's high,” Grohl says of the long shows. “You get out on stage, the first hour you're fucking dying then you settle into it and at the end of the second hour you break through and get this whole new energy and just keep going. That's when it gets fun for me."
Why do they go that far? Let’s not name names but some of your stadium acts just phone it in sometimes and still do well. Because, according to Schiflett, the Foo Fighters don’t want to bet that anything less will do. While the jovial and relaxed Smear declares that “I never worry about if this show is going to sell out or not” and finds himself more nervous in a small room than a massive open air show, Schifflett remains anxious.
"I can only speak for myself but it is my state of mind to be a pessimist, about anything,” says Schiflett, who was a Foo fan long before he joined the band and still considers himself “the new guy”.
“I wish I was Mr Glass Is Half Full but I'm a total glass half empty guy. I think if we assume that it would always be good like this, that's probably when it would go away."
Given 16 years of hits to get through, how do they avoid becoming the kind programmed pop show where everyone knows what will happen next? At Milton Keynes, they added to the light show and visuals with guests such as Roger Taylor, Alice Cooper and Bob Mould of Husker Do.
We won’t get that in Australia but Grohl says ultimately it’s about making everyone believe their experience is unique.
"The set list doesn't matter I don't think; we don't play the songs the same way every night, I don't say the same thing every night," says a man who, appallingly, really does live up to the popular notion of him being one of the nicest blokes in rock. “It's an age-old conflict a lot of musicians have. What's a pop show? Is that a show where you come out and bring it to the people so that they really fucking enjoy it?
"If I'm coming out to 65,000 people, my set list isn't the most important thing; the people are the most important thing. For years and years I tried to weave through this dissonant parade of artistic integrity. If you want to do the right thing you don't just want to be like fucking Katy Perry but you do want to bring it to the people so that it becomes the greatest fucking show that they've ever seen without it becoming robotic."
Foo Fighters will play:
HBF Park, Perth, November 30
AAMI Park, Melbourne, December 4
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, December 10
Accor Stadium, Sydney, December 12
Sky Stadium, Wellington, December 15
Western Springs Stadium, Auckland, December 17
Tickets on sale March 10