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Foo Fighters – Milton Keynes Bowl, 2011

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Foo Fighters bring their current tour to a monumental scale…

Ever since the release of 2007’s ‘Echoes, Patience, Silence & Grace’, I have become an avid admirer of Foo Fighters, arguably one of most definitive rock bands on the planet. They have been around for over sixteen years and have come through one of most intriguing journeys in modern music.

In 2008, Dave Grohl’s rockers reached their live career pinnacle playing to over 170,000 in a two-night residency at London’s Wembley Stadium. Having regrettably missed out on these shows, I was intent on catching the band on their next tour. The chance arose when they announced they would be playing a double-header in July at the 65,000-capacity Milton Keynes Bowl in the summer (July 2nd and July 3rd), with Biffy Clyro as main support act. This was almost impossible to miss, especially with the tour dates only a couple of months after the release of their seventh studio album ‘Wasting Light’. Excitement levels soared when I finally heard ‘Wasting Light’, a truly remarkable LP from start to finish. The album was recorded using entirely analogue equipment in Dave Grohl’s garage instead of their purpose-built, state-of-the-art studio entitled ‘Studio 606’. Butch Vig (‘Nevermind’ producer) reunited with Grohl in the sessions while there are contributions from Krist Novoselic (Nirvana bassist) and Pat Smear (an ex Foo Fighters guitarist who has also reunited for the tour, turning the band into a quintet and adding a third guitar to their sound). The album is considered to be ‘their heaviest yet’ and I literally could not wait to experience it live, along with their catalogue of previous hits. My dream turned into a reality as I managed to secure a couple of tickets for the event and began the eight-month wait until the concert on July 3rd.

The highly-anticipated day had arrived. We travelled by coach and arrived the ampitheatre in good time. We quickly ascended the steps to the National Bowl and were welcomed with a truly mesmerising sight. This was my first visit to this venue and I was blown away by the sheer scale of the pit. It was the first time I had even been to a completely natural amphitheatre and Milton Keynes Bowl is the only venue of this type in England. It is a monumental venue which, in recent times, is only used annually, playing host to several major acts. This was set to be Foo Fighters biggest UK show apart from Wembley Stadium and was the perfect way to kick off their UK live return on the current tour. The stage was a colossal black rectangular structure which appeared rather generic in the broad daylight. There were several large speakers mounted on steel-framed pillars scattered across the venue and three enormous television screens. When we arrived, the venue was slowly filling up with early revellers, although the inner circle was already packed, not surprisingly. The weather was beautiful and a optimistic ambience had descended across the National Bowl as we sat down on the slope directly facing the stage, the elevated position providing an excellent all-round view. It promised to be an entertaining evening in Milton Keynes.

At exactly 4:00pm, Bob Mould (‘Wasting Light’ contributor) performed a mixed DJ set to warm up the under-capacity crowd. At 4:30pm, first support act The Hot Rats emerged from inside the stage. They are a virtually unknown duo formed as a side-project by members of Supergrass. They played a brief 30-minute, 7-song set comprising entirely of cover versions. The lack of bass guitar was very evident in their sound and they failed to stimulate the early punters. Next on at 5:30pm, were second support act Jimmy Eat World. They are a pop-punk quartet from Arizona formed in 1993. They have released seven albums and achieved mainstream success with the platinum-selling fourth album ‘Bleed American’. They played a 45-minute set featuring 12 songs. They had a much superior reception to the previous band, with highlights being set opener ‘Bleed American‘, new song ‘My Best Theory‘ and hit single ‘The Middle‘. When the sky had darkened a little, third support act Biffy Clyro began their early evening set at 6:45pm. They are an alternative/hard rock trio formed in 1995 and making their mainstream breakthrough with 2007’s ‘Puzzle’. They played a full hour-long set, blasting through 14 songs. There were distinct correlations to their high slot on Pyramid Stage at last month’s Glastonbury Festival, as the band used similar a backdrop, production and setlist. I have experienced the Scottish rockers live before as support to Muse last year, but this time the setlist was more expansive and the sound was louder. They have obviously risen in popularity since then and their set, comprising primarily of songs from platinum-selling album ‘Only Revolutions’, was gloriously received by the almost full Milton Keynes Bowl crowd. Set highlights included opener ‘The Captain‘, followed by the explosive ‘That Golden Rule‘. Older songs ‘Who’s Got A Match?‘ and ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies‘ proved to be effective additions, while more subdued songs such as ‘God & Satan‘, the acoustic ‘Machines‘ and the notoriously famous ‘Many Of Horror‘ worked wonderfully in the sunset. Stadium anthem ‘Mountains‘ was a powerful closing number. It was an impressive slot by Scotland’s finest, providing an ideal warm-up of what was to follow.

At 8:15pm, with the sun setting over the horizon, headline act and the reason why 65,000 people had gathered at Milton Keynes Bowl, Foo Fighters made their grand entrance. Immediately, Grohl did his signature sprint up and down the runway playing random powerchords while the rest of the band prepared, like with any major Foo Fighters show. They then launched into the new album opener, ‘Bridge Burning‘. This energetic song soon sent the crowd into chaos straightaway. The second night of Foo Fighters’ National Bowl extravaganza had well and truly commenced. This was followed by new single ‘Rope‘, featuring stuttering guitar. The undiluted force of ‘The Pretender‘ was experienced next by an exultant crowd. The band then paused for a moment, to allow the crowd to recover and Grohl to make another of his memorable and amusing speeches. Old classic ‘My Hero‘ provoked a mass singalong from the crowd with the lyrics “there goes my hero, watch him as he goes/there goes my hero, he’s ordinary”. The singing continued through to crowd favourite ‘Learn To Fly‘. Next up was arguably the heaviest track from the band, ‘White Limo‘, which sparked several mosh pits to erupt in the inner circle. New album filler ‘Arlandria‘ was played next before another warmly-received song in ‘Breakout‘, with passionate singing ringing across the amphitheatre. ‘In Your Honour‘ highlight ‘Cold Day In The Sun‘ followed on with Taylor Hawkins stepping up to lead vocal duties, a song which suited the surroundings. ‘Long Road To Ruin‘ was an unexpected but nevertheless worthy inclusion in the setlist. Grohl and lead guitarist Chris Shiflett went the extra mile with a guitar battle integrated into the extended version of the exceptionally groovy ‘Stacked Actors‘, with Grohl shifting to the second stage positioned behind the mixing tent. After this epic guitar-driven number came recent single ‘Walk’, a slow-burning masterpiece. Bob Mould entered the stage to add vocal parts to ‘Dear Rosemary‘ as in its studio version. Everything went out of control as the band thundered through an extended crowd favourite ‘Monkey Wrench‘, which featured a typical Hawkins drum solo and a Grohl speech in the middle. Another surprising but pleasant inclusion came with ‘Let It Die‘, a gradually progressive song from ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace‘. ‘These Days‘ arrived afterwards, a more subdued song from the new album but definitely one of my favourites. Another shock inclusion came with ‘Generator‘ which induced a positive crowd reaction. ‘Best Of You‘ then ensued, catching everyone off guard by being inserted into the main set. As Grohl instructed, this song was sung by the entire audience triumphantly (even continuing after the song had finished, with Grohl then saying ‘we do have other songs, you know!’). It was by far the loudest the audience had sung all evening, so loud in fact it could have been heard across sleeping north Buckinghamshire. By contrast, the set advanced to ‘Skin And Bones‘, a overwhelmingly soft and acoustic number, rewarding the crowd a break from the intensity, but turned out magical in the setting. Afterwards, they played, in my opinion, the highlight of the night ‘All My Life‘. It’s pulverizing riffs injected fresh energy into the upbeat audience, causing people to move with vigour. It was a brilliant way to end the main set. Adrenaline levels were at their peak as Foo Fighters vacated the stage momentarily for their well-earned interval. The atmosphere around the National Bowl was incredible as the crowd waited patiently for the encore. It granted the opportunity to absorb what had just occured. Foo Fighters had gone from strength to strength throughout the night and have clearly been galvanised by the success of ‘Wasting Light‘ as this confidence had filtered though to their live performance. I had simply been captivated by an extraordinary live show, which featured such a diverse and epic setlist, and it was not over yet! The entire stage went completely black apart from the screens which were illuminated green by a nightcam. They displayed Grohl and Hawkins hanging around backstage before Grohl started teasing the audience as to how long their encore should last. The fervent audience managed to make Grohl hold up five fingers (representing five songs), having started from one. It was only Grohl who re-entered the stage with the sky completely dark, shifting straight to the second stage in the middle of the National Bowl. He played a solo version of ‘Wheels‘, an underated and rare addition to their live show. He then slipped into a gentle version of ‘Times Like These’ before the rest of the band rejoined him on the main stage as the song built up into a stunning climax. Foo Fighters, as with most of their shows, then performed a couple of cover versions. The first was Mose Allison’sYoung Man Blues‘ and the second was Seasick Steve’sBack In The Dog House‘. It was the latter that was most significant as Seastick Steve and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones entered the stage for the jam, with Grohl taking the drum stool, portraying his many capabilities. Foo Fighters were adhering to their tradition of inviting special guests to their major shows, and this duo tonight were on excellent form. Afterwards, Foo Fighters delved deep into their back catalogue with ‘This Is A Call‘, an old fan favourite. The band had breached the curfew and supposedly finished their encore, although nobody seemed to care as there was still one song in the tank. They unleashed ‘Everlong’ in their grand finale. The crowd savoured the moment as it would be the last major show from the band for a long time. It was the perfect show closer, as Foo Fighters signed off a truly breathtaking night.

It was a sensational concert and undoubtedly one of the greatest nights of my life. Foo Fighters’ epic performance was staggeringly brilliant as they had definitely pushed the boundaries for a modern rock show. I was completely mindblown and as the crowd slowly made their way to the exits, I reflected upon the euphoria of such a awe-inspiring night. Unforgettable…

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I live in south-east England. Music and literature have been passions of mine from an early age - this blog grants me the opportunity to combine the two!

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