“Rick fuckin’ Astley,” says Dave Grohl as his special guest skips offstage having just had his biggest hit done in the style of Smells Like Teen Spirit. “What a bad-ass motherfucker.”
You couldn’t imagine Bono or Axl Rose ever Rick-rolling themselves, but that’s the point. Recreating his recent impromptu Astley collaboration in Japan on a grungecore Never Gonna Give You Up perfectly encapsulates Grohl’s appeal. He’s the embodiment of garage-punk spirit who surfed Nirvana’s trajectory to icon status and became, by necessity, a wry pastiche of a guitar rock god. He was given an entire HBO series in 2014, Sonic Highways, to fanboy over the studios where, for example, Pigface recorded Gub. When he broke his leg in 2015, his punk principles required that he keep touring in a throne made of guitar necks.
Tonight he arrives riffing and screaming through I’ll Stick Around like an arena metal hellion, but treats the O2 like any Seattle dive bar, mocking his band’s superfluous solos (“that was enlightening,” he tells guitarist Chris Shiflett), promising everyone a drink if they can out-sing him and, as always, repeatedly insisting the band will “keep playing all night”.
If Grohl actually played all night every time he said he would, it would trigger a global crisis in babysitting debt, but he has a good go. Over almost three hours, Foo Fighters tear through reams of pop-metal hits as savage as they are accessible, all capturing a melodic grunge euphoria – a little like Nirvana ski jumping.
Despite even Lemonhead-like ditties Learn to Fly and Monkey Wrench being stretched into seven-minute crowd-teasers full of breakdowns and sing-for-your-beer sections, the pace remains fervent. The material from their new album, Concrete and Gold (Grohl’s attempt at a blues-metal Sgt Pepper’s), suggests the Foos are developing a subtle artistry and political bite in their third decade. Make It Right and The Sky Is a Neighbourhood turn the Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy) into bombastic diatribes on poverty and global warming. Dirty Water is a space age country tune about pollution; La Dee Da is a glam metal premonition of the Korean missile crisis.
We leave barely 30 minutes past curfew, uploading our Rick videos to YouTube, but what lingers more than the viral japes is Foo Fighters’ sudden sonic expansion.