There are plenty of big names at this year’s NOS Alive. The xx and the Weeknd, Fleet Foxes and Spoon and, uh, Imagine Dragons, who are still huge even if it’d be preferable to never hear about them again. And there are some legacy acts mixed in, too, with the likes of the Cult and Depeche Mode and Peaches filling interesting spots on the lineup compared to a standard American fest. But there was only one artist who really felt like they had all that, a continued vitality and/or relevance coupled with multi-generational appeal. That was Foo Fighters.
There was excitement bubbling up on Thursday ahead of mainstage sets from Phoenix and the xx, but yesterday was something different. The festival felt way more crowded, way more frenetic, and there were countless Foo Fighters shirts. It felt like all roads led to a particular place. And when the band finally took the stage at midnight, all that energy burst for two and a half hours straight, as the band delivered a set loaded with hits and built like a nearly nonstop adrenaline rush for its entire duration.
It’s become easy to take this band for granted. They’re an institution in a less cool way than many of their ’90s contemporaries or immediate forebears; rather than remain a Gen X icon, Dave Grohl seems to have joined the classic rock echelon. There is little that’s hip or modern about the extra-earnest choruses and gigantic guitars of Foos music, even when strains of their earlier scrappiness occasionally creep through into the newer material. A lot of the records they’ve released this century are uneven, and their last one, 2014’s Sonic Highways, is likely their worst, further bogged down by being a “concept record.” Grohl, as endlessly affable as he seems, is also somewhat ubiquitous; even when there isn’t any new Foos music percolating, they’re never out of the picture for very long. Altogether, this stuff seems to make what should be an easily likable group feel, to some people at least, like a U2 type entity, the kind of institution you can’t really tune out if you want to.
All of which is to say: a Foo Fighters festival set is a convincing reminder of why we liked this band in the first place and why they got so monolithically big. In just over two decades, Grohl & co. have amassed an impressive collection of heavy-hitting singles, all possessing the firepower of constant hooks and distorted guitar theatrics. Even the songs that aren’t actually hits felt like they were last night, and that’s ignoring the fact that most of the set was hits and they didn’t even touch all of them. (No “I’ll Stick Around” or live favorite “Stacked Actors,” unfortunately.) I mean, they came out and started things with “All My Life” into “Times Like These” into “Learn To Fly.” That’s insanity. That’s how you could and/or should end a set. But it just kept coming, (comparatively) more recent tracks like “The Pretender” and “Arlandria” feeling just as classic as “My Hero” and “Monkey Wrench.”
That also very much goes for their new song “Run,” which between its caustic verses and swelling singalong choruses, manages to cram various versions of what Foo Fighters do well into one infectious package that just might signal that Sonic Highways didn’t mark a permanent creative downturn. They ambitiously placed that one towards the end, right before the final run of the really big songs, and it held its own. They also brought out Alison Mosshart — the Kills had played the mainstage directly before the Foos — for another new song, “La Di Da,” like they did in June. Grohl also let it slip that Mosshart sings on a bunch of the new songs. If these songs are any indication, the band has rediscovered some of that fire-breathing, scream-your-head-off rock they’d returned to on Wasting Light, and it’s exhilarating to hear them play stuff like this again after the mostly turgid Sonic Highways.
But even if you don’t care one way or another about new Foo Fighters music in 2017, there was an undeniable power to the whole thing last night. Seeing a legacy act that’s still young enough to sound great play in a different country and realize just how many people these songs reach, and how totally it moves them, is a hell of a thing. By the end, it was easy to wonder where they’d even go after seemingly all the big songs had already appeared — and then you remember they’re going to play “Best Of You” and “Everlong” back to back at the end. There are few songs in the modern rock canon better suited for a huge, triumphant end to a festival night than “Best Of You” and “Everlong” — both built on constant catharsis, both built for the biggest of singalongs. And as “Everlong” hit its climactic finale, the Foo Fighters had made their point: This is one of the best festival bands alive right now.