In September 2015, Foo Fighters performed two shows at the Milton Keynes Bowl as make-up shows for a summer knocked off course.
Dave Grohl and pals had been due to perform at Wembley Stadium and Glastonbury Festival earlier that year, but plans were derailed when Grohl broke his leg after falling off stage at a concert in Sweden a few weeks earlier.
That show in Sweden has since earned something approaching legendary status, given Grohl managed to perform something approaching the usual show despite his leg being busted and having to receive a lot of medical treatment.
Such is the notoriety the gig since received that when Foo Fighters played the same Gothenburg stadium in 2018, the band had a trick intro where a man dressed as Grohl fell off the stage onto a conveniently placed crash mat. A move that no doubt earned him brownie points with banter lovers.
With Wembley and Glasto in the bin, Foos then came added make-up shows at the Bowl, bringing with them originally planned support acts Iggy Pop and Royal Blood. As was used at a number of US stadium dates in-between the leg-break and the Bowl, Grohl would perform atop a throne decorated with guitar necks. During the show, his original sketch would even be shown on the big screens while he talked about it.
Dubbed the “Broken Leg” tour, it ended up being one of the band’s celebrated visits to the UK. I would know – I went to that one, and found it an enjoyable occasion.
But one also has fond memories of when the Foos first took their guitars to the Milton Keynes venue for a headline date, on a pair of bright summery afternoons in July 2011.
Indeed, the 9 year anniversary of these shows came this week – the shows were on the first Saturday & Sunday of July, no less, and in time for what was then the 16th year anniversary of their self-titled debut album, which turned 25 this week.
Attending the second night of these shows was my first time attending a gig at the Bowl, although one had heard a lot about it. My parents saw Queen and David Bowie there, while some of my friends went to Green Day’s famed Bullet in a Bible gigs at the venue in 2005 (something covered in detail here) or to Linkin Park and Prodigy gigs in the years before this one.
Getting into this one was a late move – I only found out the shows after they’d sold out, and ended up registering on the Foo Fighters’ messageboards and buying some second hand tickets. This approach meant that unlike friends who ended up listening in from Furzton Lake, I was in.
After arriving at lunchtime and lucking in for a golden circle wristband on a warm old day – if not as warm as the day before – the time was spent watching the crowd steadily fill the venue by the thousands. Husker Du’s Bob Mould acted as an MC, spinning tracks on a DJ booth, while a funfair ride was set-up to part people from their cash.
The support bill had a range of acts. Night one had seen a pre-Lonerism Tame Impala and Death Cab for Cutie, while we got Hot Rats – a cover band lead by 2 members of Supergrass – who formed a reasonable introduction to the afternoon, before the pop-punk of Jimmy Eat World stepped things up a gear.
Things were even further warmed up by Biffy Clyro, with Only Revolutions duo The Captain and That Golden Rule serving as a huge notice of intent. Such was the reaction to the Scots throughout their set that a passer-by could easily have mistaken them for the headline act – moreso than when this writer saw them as an opening act the year before, and even despite (or maybe because of) a song getting chosen as an X Factor winner’s single.
But of course, the headliners were soon incoming. Foo Fighters arrived in their traditional style – with Grohl shredding on guitar to be soon joined in by the rest of the band while the band leader ran around the stage.
The opening 2 cuts from the-then recent album Wasting Light went off in suitably grand manner, with the crowd taking them on as a suitable excuse to party. This breakneck start only escalated when The Pretender and My Hero – both stadium rock anthems any band would want to have written – came up next, sparking wild scenes in the pit.
Wild enough, even, for a man in a rubber dinghy to crowdsurf during Learn to Fly and a savage White Limo, the latter of which was dedicated to said crowdsurfer. Much as I’ve been to hundreds of gigs over the last decade, that is certainly a stand-out.
The gig had all the kind of things once might expect from the Foos. There were guitar solos, including a moment where Grohl and Chris Shiflett held a solo duel, plus drum solos delivered by a wildly grinning Taylor Hawkins, mass sing-alongs, and lots of moments for the crowd to go wild. All My Life and Best of You as a main set closer was such, as was the evergreen rock anthem Everlong with a firework spurt at the end.
There was also elements of fun amidst the stadium rock bombast, with Grohl egged on the crowd to chug multiple beers, and a guest slot for Seasick Steve and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.
As an introduction to the Foos world, it was certainly a hell of a ride. And there was certainly for material for me out of it.
My first ever published piece online as a writer was for the now-defunct MKWeb covering this gig as an aspiring reviewer in my pre-degree days, while photos taken from the start of the afternoon are still regularly used on this site when talking about the Bowl – a venue I always felt deserved more use than it gets. Sadly photos of Foos themselves were elusive, given the battery on my old camera ran flat during the Biffy-FF changeover.
The 2015 show is no doubt a fascinating memory in and of itself, from the last minute nature of the gigs to Grohl making the most of his reduced mobility to the goodwill from the crowd that the show could go on. But while that would undoubtedly occupy the minds of anyone who saw both of these runs, the first shows were undoubtedly excellent on their own merits and should be recognised as such.