To hear Dave Grohl tell it, when Foo Fighters were thinking of how to debut their eighth album, “Concrete and Gold,” they found themselves at a crossroads: what would be the biggest, loudest way to introduce their latest to the world?
A huge party at the Hollywood Bowl? Nah, “not loud enough,” according to Grohl. Their idea, instead, was to bring back CalJam, he explained at the start of their headlining set of their new iteration of the rock ‘n’ roll music festival that in the ‘70s included such acts as Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, the Eagles and Foreigner.
The result of that idea was a one-day fest at the Glen Helen Regional Park in scorching San Bernardino, Calif., with Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant, Liam Gallagher, Royal Blood, the Kills, Wolf Alice, Japandroids, Bob Mould, Bully and more. Variety was on hand at the first year of this new version of CalJam – which may not be the last, Grohl teased on stage – to experience all the biggest acts and Foo Fighters mania.
Rock and Grohl
To be clear, CalJam wasn’t just 12 hours of celebrating Foo Fighters, but it was a fan’s dream. During their two-hour-plus set, the band somehow managed to make a festival with thousands of onlookers feel intimate. While they ran through hits like “Pretenders,” “All My Life,” “Best of You,” and “My Hero,” along with singles off their new album, Grohl got personal with the crowd, even rushing into the middle of it at one point to strum his guitar surrounded by fans.
And they brought out the big guns, too. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, who played at the 1978 CalJam, joined Foo Fighters on stage to perform “Draw the Line.” They also welcomed the Kills’ Alison Mosshart to collaborate on their new song together, “La Dee Da,” and even Rick Astley to hurl expletives at the audience and “rick roll” the entire festival with “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The venue was complete with a Foo Fighters museum as well, featuring the throne Grohl performed on after he broke his leg… and the cast he wore during that time.
Liam Being Liam
Part of Liam Gallagher’s appeal is his above-it-all rockstar attitude, but it almost seemed out of place at CalJam at points. Among the high-energy headliners, Gallagher looked like he was on autopilot as he sang both Oasis classics and some of his new singles.
It got mildly bizarre when Grohl, with Perry still on stage, invited Gallagher on stage to sing a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” (which Aerosmith also covered in the ’70s). Gallagher had to hold a piece of paper with the lyrics to the famous song in front of him, and left via a random stage dive near the end of the song. “I just saw Liam’s a–crack,” Grohl said afterward. “That was planned,” he added sarcastically.
Matt Shultz Uncaged
Cage the Elephant hit the stage after Gallagher’s set, and it’s hard to think of anyone who could bring up the energy levels more than the band’s frontman, Matt Shultz.
As they delivered hits like “Come a Little Closer,” “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” and “Cigarette Daydreams,” Shultz, who has an almost Iggy Pop-like appeal while performing, completely owned the stage. Stripping down to a revealing outfit that resembled Spanx boxers at one point (the same piece he wore during the Life Is Beautiful festival just a few weeks ago), he sang and wiggled across the stage, showing the desert exactly what a showman looks like.
Queens Remember Vegas Victims
If it didn’t seem possible to up the ante after Cage the Elephant, Queens of the Stone Age were more than capable, performing old hits like “Little Sister” along with new songs off their album “Villains” amidst a stunning light show.
But it wasn’t lost on the band that the festival was taking place less than a week after 59 people died and 500 others were injured during a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. Between songs, Queens frontman Josh Homme took a sign from the audience that read “VEGAS STRONG” on the front, proudly stopping to hold it up and flip it over to show the names of shooting victims written on the back. The sign remained in prominent placement behind Homme — whose close friends Eagles of Death Metal were onstage during the 2015 terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris — for the rest of the set: a simple, yet appropriate tribute to such a recent tragedy.
Beating the Heat
The headliners had the luxury of evening temperatures during their sets, but those earlier in the day rocked out in 95-degree heat. Royal Blood was one of the final acts before the sun went down, and if you didn’t know any better, it would be hard to believe that the U.K. rock band is only comprised of two people. But vocalist and bass guitarist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher were a sight to behold, with Thatcher in particular delivering a show-stealing drum solo near the end of “Little Monster.”
And that’s to say nothing of acts like Circa Waves and the Struts, who had the unenviable task of performing to a much smaller crowd in peak desert heat. But they made the most of it, with both bands using their hits and charisma to get the hot daytime crowd moving.