Live review: Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert, Wembley Stadium

Foo Fighters gather together Metallica, AC/DC, Queen, The Beatles and more for mammoth six-hour tribute to Taylor Hawkins.

Live review: Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert, Wembley Stadium
Nick Ruskell
Sean Cox and Scarlet Page

“When we first started talking about putting something together for Taylor, we sat down and we said, ‘Even if it's his closest friends, that's like 100 fucking musicians,’” says Dave Grohl.

“This collection of friends and family and musicians, this is all brought together by him and we're all connected here today by that one guy. Bringing musicians that have never met, musicians that have never played together, all in one place, at one time, with all of you beautiful people to make fucking noise for Taylor Hawkins.”

Six months since the world lost Taylor, the celebration and send off that Foo Fighters have put together for their friend is spectacular. Across six hours – “it’s going to be a long fucking night” is how Dave opens proceedings at half-past four in the afternoon – there are legends, there are new faces, there are friends, there is family, there are things you have never seen before and likely never will again.

Foos with Lars Ulrich on drums and AC/DC’s Brian Johnson ripping through Back In Black? Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson saluting Taylor and their own late friend (and hero of Hawkins) Neil Peart with Dave on the drumstool? Dave picking up a bass and doing a riotous run through of Van Halen’s Hot For Teacher with Wolfgang Van Halen and The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins? Foos and Paul McCartney? Yes to all. It is beautifully astonishing.

Kicking off the afternoon with Foos and Liam Gallagher doing rousing versions of Oasis’ Rock 'N' Roll Star and Live Forever, the communal, sing-along tone of the night is set immediately. He’s followed by Nile Rodgers, joined by Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme for an arse-shaking rendition of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, and Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes for the Thin White Duke’s massive Modern Love.

Even the less grandstanding and more unfamiliar moments are buoyed by the occasion. James Gang (featuring guitar legend Joe Walsh) may not get quite the same reaction as when Taylor’s close drum-buddy Stewart Copeland of The Police arrives for a mighty sing-along to Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, but that doesn’t matter so much as why they’re here, being one of the great man’s favourite bands. Similarly, Dave Grohl’s daughter Violet singing – brilliantly – a pair of Jeff Buckley songs with her dad on drums, or later on joining Mark Ronson for a stripped-down rendition of Amy Winehouse’s Valerie (originally by The Zutons) is just as important to the day as Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones joining Dave and Josh Homme for Them Crooked Vultures’ first performance in over a decade. Ditto Taylor’s jamming mates Chevy Metal and The Coattail Riders, joined by Ke$ha for T-Rex’s Children Of The Revolution.

But when the bigger moments come, they are incredible. AC/DCtallicafighters is a riot of fun, tumbling through Back In Black and Let There Be Rock like a bunch of mates who’ve been asked if they wouldn’t mind doing a couple of numbers at a wedding reception. Dave jamming with Rush on 2112: Overture and Working Man, meanwhile, is more disciplined, but still has that same glorious swell of joy and love for music.

Between musical turns, there’s messages of love on the screens from even more friends – Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, Stevie Nicks, Sir Elton John, Billie Eilish – and footage of Taylor ripping it up behind the kit. Brilliantly, a clip of him aping Freddie Mercury’s ‘aay oh’ crowd-baiting announces the arrival of Queen. With Brian May noting it’s been 30 years since he and Roger Taylor hosted a similar concert for their late singer, there’s a poignancy in the power of We Will Rock You this evening. It’s also the point where the day’s ‘everyone playing with everyone’ vibe is at its most potent, with they and the Foos crowding the stage. Taking the mic, Luke Spiller from The Struts is as much of a darling for the spotlight as the man whose songs he’s singing, while a turn by Eurovision bloke and world-smiling-record holder Sam Ryder for Somebody To Love is charged with simple, genuine excitement.

When the inevitable moments of sadness do come, they hit hard. As Foos start their own set to round out the night, Dave breaks into tears as he sings an almost a capella Times Like These. But then, as the song rolls into an electrifying All My Life, the grief turns into joy. Hammering out the riff with hard, vital urgency, it’s one of countless moments tonight where the power of music to navigate such an emotionally complex thing as loss becomes magic. When they’re joined by Taylor’s 16-year-old son Shane on drums for My Hero, it’s almost overwhelming.

“Now, we’ve got the little guy,” said Dave, by way of introduction. “Let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone hit the drums as hard as this person. But beyond that, he’s a member of our family and he needs to be here tonight with all of us and I think it makes sense that he’s going to come up and play with us tonight.”

Elsewhere, they’re joined by Travis Barker for Monkey Wrench and The Pretender. Josh Freese adds his thump to All My Life. Rufus Taylor picks up the sticks for These Days and a cathartic Best Of You. Among these legends, 12-year-old Nandi Bushell shines even more brightly than usual as she hops onstage to storm through Learn To Fly.

It says something that even the surprise appearance of Sir Paul McCartney for covers of The Beatles’ Oh! Darling (also featuring the day’s second outing for The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde) and a clattering Helter Skelter simply becomes part of the party. No matter who’s here, there’s not a single moment when anyone onstage loses sight of the reason they are.

After six hours, it comes to a tearful end with a devastatingly fragile Everlong, as thousands of voices choke with the emotion as they sing along. As special a day as it’s been, as brilliant and inspired a celebration as Taylor’s friends have put together, it is absolutely gutting that something so wonderful exists for the reason it does. But as a way of sharing so much love and bringing people together to properly say goodbye to such a towering figure and wonderful musician as Taylor, it’s also a magnificent display of the joy of music and life.

What a show. What a man. What a send-off.

READ THIS: Taylor Hawkins: A wild light blinding bright

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?