For many, the humble village hall birthday party is a rite of passage. The biggest event of one’s childhood social calendar, even. This is the kind of soiree that Cheese & Grain in Frome, Somerset, is more used to hosting. But that all changed on Friday night when the Foo Fighters – one of the biggest bands in recent rock history – turned up to play to an audience the size of a school assembly.
Nearly 20 years have passed since the American rockers were in Somerset, when they played Glastonbury Festival in 1998. They came close to returning two years ago, but were thwarted when frontman Dave Grohl broke his leg while on tour. So it didn’t take a genius to deduce that tickets for Obelisk Airlines – a fictional venture, the branding of which showed the band’s logo inside a pyramid – released to a select number of (mostly local) fans, were in fact invitations to a secret gig announcing Foo Fighters’ return to Worthy Farm later this year.
While guests excitedly milled about the modest 500-capacity venue, however, few were entirely certain what to expect. But as Michael Eavis – proprietor of Glastonbury – introduced them to the stage with his West Country burr, their hopes were confirmed: Foo Fighters will indeed be taking to the Pyramid Stage on Saturday, June 24. Having cultivated a reputation for being the nicest band in rock, the Foos confirmed themselves as the most honourable – holding true to their 2015 promise that they would be back to reclaim their headline slot after Florence + The Machine stepped in at the last minute two years ago.
Their altruism was even confirmed in the way the audience was chosen for this top-secret rendezvous, tracing the postcodes of fans who had regularly bought Foo Fighters tickets, and rewarding their loyalty with a freebie.
In spite of their humble surroundings, the Grammy-winning group (formed by former Nirvana drummer Grohl after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994) approached the stage as if it were inside a stadium. An understated lighting rig, the soaring choruses of their anthemic songs, and some vigorous head-banging was all that were needed to bring the Cheese & Grain to life.
Walloping power chords propelled the set list from chart breakthrough Learn to Fly right up to fan favourite Everlong, via The Pretender and other hits that have become staples of the band’s back catalogue, and the momentum of Taylor Hawkins’ frenetic drumming drove each track forward. Grohl’s laidback charisma kept the audience hooked with wry chatter in the brief pauses for respite and water. There was a cheeky, inexplicit acknowledgment of the venue’s small size – cries of “Come on Cheese and Grain” in an American accent didn’t quite have the same rousing effect as “Hello Wembley” – but that only added to the feeling that something special was happening.
It’s business as usual at the Cheese and Grain on Saturday morning: the farmer’s market will be taking place where Friday night’s crowds moshed. But Somerset won’t have to wait two decades for the Foo Fighters’ return this time, and if this was anything to go by, those watching the Pyramid Stage on June 24 are in for a treat.