On March 25, earlier this year, beloved drummer Taylor Hawkins unexpectedly passed away whilst on tour with Foo Fighters, leaving a hole not only in the hearts of those closest to him, but in the hearts of music fans and artists across the globe.
To honour his life and influence, Foo Fighters and the Hawkins family organised a two-night tribute - one in London, and the other in LA - to pay their respects and unify the world together, for, as frontman Dave Grohl puts it, a “gigantic fucking night for a gigantic fucking person”.
For the first tribute concert, which took place across six hours in London’s Wembley Stadium on Saturday, September 3, artists from all corners of the music world, including the likes of Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, Paul McCartney, The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and more, joined together to perform the songs that inspired Hawkins’ deep love of music, as well as the songs of his career as part of the hugely-adored Foo Fighters.
We danced in celebration, history was made and tears were shed. With all that in mind, here are the eleven moments that defined one incredible evening.
Kesha showing why she's a total rock star
Kesha’s appearance alongside Chevy Metal might be unexpected, but as she hurtles into a cover of T.Rex’s 1972 hit Children Of The Revolution with all the wild fervour of a veteran rock ’n’ roll frontwoman, she looks perfectly in place. There’s nothing docile or 'poppy' about Kesha’s performance, either; she windmills her hair, serves ferocious growls, lurches across the stage like a feral jungle cat, and even shoves the entire microphone head into her mouth, which in the end, leaves us wondering why she hasn’t jumped the pop ship for something a little (or a lot) heavier.
Violet Grohl being as much of a natural on stage as her dad
The fact Dave Grohl’s children have adopted his musical talents doesn’t come as a surprise, but his daughter, Violet, feels like less of a chip off the old block and more of a star in her very own right. Her vocal performance of Jeff Buckley’s Grace confirms this fact; Violet might appear shy, but her angelic, hypnotising timbre makes up entirely for her wide-eyed, careful-footed presence. Our final takeaway? Violet desperately needs her own band
Chrissie Hynde remaining underrated and far cooler than anyone else in the building
Let’s face it: Chrissie Hynde might be a well-noted figure, but when you compare the showering of adoration that other legendary musicians are offered, the Pretenders frontwoman resides somewhere in the shallow pool. At 70 years of age, Hyde’s vocals are still faultlessly masterful, and are some of the best of the night. Each moment she appears on stage - be it duetting with Dave Grohl or the one and only Paul McCartney - she’s oozes an untouchable, effortlessly-cool energy that scores far higher on the rockstar Richter scale than anyone else present
The future of music looking bright with child drum prodigy Nandi Bushell at its helm
Taking to the stage at the latter end of the tribute, 12 year old Nandi Bushell is introduced by a smitten Grohl, who, like the rest of us, seems transfixed, and a little gobsmacked, to see the child drum extraordinaire in action. As the Foo Fighters leader tells the story of discovering Bushell on the internet, she sits confidently behind the kit, twirling her stick while fizzing with infectious pep, before exploding into a cover of Learn To Fly. She might be the youngest musician here, but her talent is far beyond her years
Joshua Homme proving to be a consummate David Bowie stand-in
His weird stage presence aside (the Queens Of The Stone Age frontman makes some bizarre joke about “private parts” and makes a lewd hand gesture imitating sex for no apparent reason), Joshua Homme’s rendition of David Bowie’s classic floor-filler Let’s Dance is an electrifying jump-start to an evening of feel-good, cathartic dancing. Joined by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, it’s an unexpected crossover, yet one that’s dizzyingly fun from start to finish. Homme later dishes out a captivating cover of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with his reunited supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, completed by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Alain Johannes, also marking their first live show in 12 years.
Love being everywhere!
In between sets, video messages from the giants of the music world play out, sharing their love and heartfelt stories of their time getting to know Taylor Hawkins. There’s touching messages from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, Guns N' Roses’ Duff McKagen and Slash, Stevie Nicks, Billie Eilish with Finneas, and Elton John. As musicians go off and on stage, too, hugs are a-plenty. In fact, we’re pretty sure about 10% of the entire evening is comprised of the acts hugging each other (that’s possibly an exaggeration, but the love and adoration is beautiful to see). Fans in the audience are similarly caught up in the moment, and can be seen singing along enveloped in each other’s arms.
Brian Johnson still kicking ass
AC/DC’s Brian Johnson is on stage. Brian Johnson is singing AC/DC songs while Metallica’s Lars Ulrich is on the drums. What’s going on? Is this a dream? It certainly feels like it. Following Johnson’s temporary departure from AC/DC in 2016 after enduring problems with his hearing, his live return tonight feels like a moment that’s been long overdue. The volume of the stage at this point sounds louder, and the Wembley crowd have now deeply plunged into the partying spirit as they dance to the well-missed legend who’s belting faultlessly through renditions of Back In Black and Let There Be Rock. Iconic.
Brian May performing Love Of My Life being the bucket list-ticker we never knew we needed
Brian May performing his trademark solo acoustic version of Queen’s 1975 heartbreaker Love Of My Life is something all fans should experience. Following a night of poignant tributes, the addition of May’s plaintive crooning and delicate strumming while surrounded by a stadium lit up by smart phones really is a crowning moment that renders many tears throughout. Next time Queen tour in your area, make sure you nab tickets, even if it’s just to hear this one song.
Sam Ryder, Justin Hawkins and Luke Spiller basically battling it out in one big Queen-off
There’s not many singers that can do Freddie Mercury’s vocals justice, but of those that can, they’re all here (minus Adam Lambert), strutting along in his footsteps and performing shoulder to shoulder with Queen. Eurovision’s Sam Ryder, the UK’s finest new vocal export, looks overwhelmed and reluctant to leave the stage; he’s also impossibly gifted and sounds right at home. Justin Hawkins’ magnificent falsetto pierces through Mercury’s lofty range with outlandish pomp, while The Struts’ Luke Spiller bellows and sashays across the stage like early Freddie reincarnate.
Our hearts ripping in two for Dave Grohl
It was always going to be a night of high sentiment. With this in mind, nothing quite prepares us for watching Grohl’s emotion overflow as he plays out a solo version of Times Like These. During the song, the frontman visibly chokes up, and takes numerous pauses to compose himself. Later in the set, to close the evening out, Dave Grohl performs a contemplative, bare-bones version of Foo Fighters’ 1997 knockout Everlong: the last song Taylor Hawkins played before his death. Hearing Grohl’s voice softly lilting the bittersweet melody feels purifying, and the perfect way to end the evening of collective grieving and celebration.
Shane Hawkins doing his father proud
On a night of many iconic moments, the one that may just persevere the most could be seeing Taylor Hawkins' young son, 16 year old Shane, do an astounding job sitting in for his father behind the kit for a stirring My Hero. Seeing a truly bowled over and elated Dave Grohl looking on only adds further emotional poignancy to a moment that will surely go down in rock 'n' roll lore. Shane's father would doubtless have beamed with pride.