Call it a Sunday night comedown, or the inevitable half-awake feeling that occurs at the end of a sweaty, blisteringly hot Reading Festival weekend, but the crowd gathered for the Foo Fighters’ headline set seem more into idle swaying than full-on head-banging. Somehow it feels appropriate, given how Foo Fighters’ long-standing ubiquity in rock music is matched only by their steadfast refusal to truly shake things up.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Foo Fighters hold such a mythical place in our cultural consciousness because they’re one of our few links between the recent music past and the uncertain present. A tribute to Keith Flint of The Prodigy ahead of their performance of “Run” brings to mind how rare the band’s survival truly is, and how many of their one-time contemporaries have been lost in the years since.
That Foo Fighters are still headlining major festivals 25 years after their debut could be read as a bleak statement on the lack of imagination within the festival industry – particularly amid a Reading line-up of fascinating, beloved newcomers lower down the bill, such as Billie Eilish and Yungblud. Not to mention ever-evolving artists with major fanbases, such as Anderson Paak, Charli XCX and Bastille. But that Foo Fighters are still here at all, still commercially successful and playing to packed-out arenas, is undeniably worthy of respect.
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With age, however, has come a “rock establishment” self-indulgence, manifesting in the form of an overlong set stocked with hits, with each individual song laboriously extended to around six or seven minutes. The band regularly break off into drum solos or extra choruses, and while this loose energy goes some way to explaining they’re continued appeal, it also means the show itself is slightly baggy.
“Times Like These” and “All My Life” are both still capable of inspiring chills no matter how often they’ve been wheeled out. There’s a lovely comeback for “For All the Cows”, an often-forgotten single from their debut album. “The Sky is a Neighborhood”, a classic-rock track from their 2017 record Concrete and Gold, is a proper moment and a reminder that while Foo Fighters have hardly ever reinvented the wheel, they’re still capable of mild gestures towards experimentation.
It’s a set of few surprises – a Rick Astley cameo for the band’s rock rendition of his hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” feels oddly old-hat by now. But surprise is not the reason Foo Fighters continue to be as popular as they are. What the band has always lacked in creative daring has been more than made up for by their sheer rock-star showmanship: Dave Grohl is an eternally likeable sprite of a frontman, while Taylor Hawkins is a beast on the drums (his rare solo rendition of “Under Pressure” is a show highlight. Rhythm guitarist Pat Smear an enviable shimmer of laconic, 50-something cool.
They are never radical, but always provide fans with a fun time. Foo Fighters will probably be here forever. And truthfully, that’s OK.