Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert: Foo Fighters give drummer a loving send-off
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl choked back tears as he played the band’s first show since the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins in March.
The star was singing Times Like These when he paused to collect his emotions on the lyric: “It’s times like these you learn to love again.”
Earlier, Grohl described Hawkins as his “dear friend, bandmate and brother”.
He said of Hawkins “no-one else could make you smile or laugh or dance or sing like he could”.
“And for those of you that admired him from afar, I’m sure you’ve all felt the same thing,” Grohl added.
“So sing and dance and laugh and cry and scream and make some noise so he can hear us right now.”
Grohl was speaking as Foo Fighters topped the bill at an all-star concert in honour of Hawkins’ life at London’s Wembley Stadium.
The drummer was found dead in a hotel room in Colombia this March, shortly before Foo Fighters were due to play a festival in Bogotá. He was 50 years old.
No cause of death was announced, although a toxicology report showed traces of 10 substances in his body, including opioids, marijuana and anti-depressants.
Investigators did not say whether the mix of drugs was a factor.
Saturday night’s concert was the first of two gigs organised by the musician’s wife and bandmates, with proceeds going to charities Music Support and MusiCares.
Sir Paul McCartney, Queen and AC/DC were among the rock royalty who showed up to pay tribute at Wembley; while Liam Gallagher opened the show with a fitting rendition of Oasis’s Rock And Roll Star.
Sir Paul was a surprise addition to the line-up – giving a full-throttle rendition of The Beatles classic Helter Skelter, and duetting with Chrissie Hynde on Oh! Darling. “A song I haven’t performed since we recorded it 100 years ago,” Sir Paul said.
British teenager Nandi Bushell, who went viral after challenging Grohl to a drum battle during lockdown, also got to join her heroes onstage, taking Hawkins’ place during Learn To Fly.
Grohl introduced her as, “one of the most badass drummers I’ve ever met in my life”.
She was one of several musicians to fill Hawkins’ seat, including Blink-182’s Travis Barker, Roger Taylor’s son Rufus and Hawkins’ 16-year-old son, Shane – who gave a thunderous performance of My Hero, on what can only have been an emotionally-charged night.
“If you could only see how many drum sets are back there,” joked Grohl. “It’s like your local music store.”
It was a family affair through and through. Dave Grohl’s daughter Violet, who had known Hawkins all her life, also gave beautiful, sensitive readings of Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Amy Winehouse’s version of Valerie – while her dad watched proudly from the side of the stage.
The concert also featured performances from some of Hawkins’ favourite bands and musicians, including Metallica, Rush, Supergrass and Stewart Copeland of The Police.
“The last few days we have been asking ourselves the same question after every rehearsal: ‘I wonder what Taylor would think of this – to see all of these amazing people together making music?'” said Grohl at one point, again struggling to contain his emotions.
There can’t be many drummers whose death would warrant a Stadium-sized tribute, let alone two (a second date will be played in LA next week) – but Taylor Hawkins was no ordinary drummer.
His energy and positivity and passion for life were on display every time Foo Fighters took to the stage. He wasn’t just Dave Grohl’s sideman, he was his equal – playing with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon, and the power to match.
Saturday night’s concert was about capturing and celebrating that spirit. A gesture of love, instead of sadness. One that honoured his love of music, whether it was Jeff Buckley or George Michael.
“He was a musicologist,” Grohl told the audience. “He knew more about music than anyone I’d ever met in my life.”
That focus on Hawkins’ favourite songs made the concert more personal than most benefit shows, where bands only appear to promote their latest album.
Pop star Kesha tore into a sleazy version of T. Rex’s Children Of The Revolution, while AC/DC’s Brian Johnson lit up the stadium with muscular renditions of Back In Black and Let There Be Rock, accompanied by Grohl and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
“Taylor I know you’re watching,” said Ulrich from the stage. “I know you can hear this, I know you can feel this. We love you.”
Queen – Hawkins’ favourite band – ran through a compact set of their biggest hits, including We Will Rock You and Somebody To Love, ably assisted by a jump-suited Sam Ryder.
Guitarist Brian May also led the crowd in an acoustic version of Love Of My Life, reflecting that he had played a tribute concert for Queen frontman Freddie Mercury on the same stage exactly 30 years ago.
“We said goodbye to Freddie in a style similar to this,” he said, “but I know Freddie would be very happy to use this song to honour Taylor”.
Queen were the first group Hawkins ever saw live, at the age of 10; and he would regularly step out from behind his kit to serenade Foo Fighters’ fans with one of their songs.
Somebody To Love was the last track he ever performed live, during a show in Argentina earlier this year.
Some sections of the tribute veered into self-indulgence. Wolfgang Van Halen’s finger-twisting guitar riffs left the audience unmoved, while Josh Homme should never be allowed to sing Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ever again.
Ohio band James Gang and Canadian prog rockers Rush laid bare the gulf between British audiences and disciples of US rock radio – although their technical skills were hard to deny.
Video tributes came from Elton John, Billie Eilish and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, who told the story of how Hawkins would visit his local music shop and buy instruments for aspiring drummers.
“I love him and I miss him every day,” he added.
“Taylor’s music and his passion will be remembered for ever and ever and so should his warmth and kindness with every person who was ever lucky enough to meet him,” said Eilish in her tribute.
Fans leaving the show said it had helped them heal.
“Everybody is devastated, still, that he’s gone, but after that, I feel better” said Jennifer, who flew in from California to see the show.
“There were a lot of tears, a lot of emotions, but I think the band loved it. They were rocking out for him.”
“I think it was a release,” agreed Sherilyn, who’d come from Norfolk with her partner, John. “We were missing Taylor, that’s for sure. I cried a lot. But everybody came together tonight. What more can you ask for?”
It was a sentiment that Grohl echoed on stage.
“We hope that you guys felt the love from all of us and all of the performers,” he said, before closing the show with Everlong.
“Because we felt it from you, for Taylor tonight.”