It can be a bit of an endurance test, can Slane. Not content with the challenges of plotting a route via small roads and skirting checkpoints to miraculously arrive at a carpark a stones throw from the entrance, the weather app promises a 100% chance of wetness later that evening. The undercard do their best to get us through, with the Kaiser Chiefs bringing hits combined with boundless energy, Hozier fitting in better than you might have expected (even managing a stroll down Mr Grohl’s walkway), Ash throwing in a spirited version of ‘Teenage Kicks’ and The Strypes, as ever, giving the impression that no stage is too big for them. Thanks to them, we make it through the rain.
This old stager, once a right of passage in the heady rock days of the ’80s and ’90s, now has much competition and on the day Forbidden Fruit takes the more dance-seeking crowd. On site it looks for all the world like a sold-out day, a cascade of people rolling down into the sleepy Boyne Valley. The distant sound of rumbling guitars announces the main event, something recognisable floats through and we run to the hillside to see Dave Grohl kick Foo Fighters into full throttle shouting “I wanna see everybody fuckin’ dance!”. The rain is temporarily stunned and ‘Everlong’, arguably their best song, is lashed out – the entire crowd focussed and fired up. The false ending, a Grohl classic move, fools about half of us and we’re back in again and have gone from a standing start to a car-chase and everyone’s now out of breath.
But no time for love, Dr. Jones. ‘Monkey Wrench’ lights it up again and if you think you’ll have time for a sip of beer, you’re wrong because we’re straight into ‘Learn To Fly’. This is an absolute masterclass in opening a rock concert. We could have chalked up five stars, beaten the rush and gone home at this point and not been happier. Dave Grohl is the consumate rock frontman. He carries not just the pedigree of his own band stretching far behind him, but that other pedigree of a band a different lifetime ago, and carries it with attitude and yet an acute understanding of an audience. He acknowledges the rain and runs out to play in it. He knows it’s cold out there, so keeps warming us up by letting loose the big guns. He talks about taking his mother on a driving tour of Ireland and of Nirvana playing Cork with Sonic Youth.
This talking perhaps interrupts the breakneck pace and things dip a little, though you simply couldn’t keep that pace up. A solo ‘Big Me’ takes it down but then ‘Walk’ will lift us all up again. We are constantly made feel that this is a special event just for us – more masterclass – and that the rain can be turned into a positive, and he actually pulls it off. As he stands at the end of the walkway singing ‘Times Like These’ insisting that it is about times like these, up-close to the sodden out in the middle of the field, you see how inclusive he tries to be despite the breath of the site. Then he’s back on stage to close the song with the full electronic version.
As ever there are a few covers of bands that influenced who we’re watching today, and one “we learned backstage and hour and a half ago” is also the band who headlined the first Slane, and they coast through Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’ – not a reinvention, but a fun aside. ‘Under Pressure’ is singalong pleasure and then we’re dropped back in the deep end. ‘All My Life’ swaggers in complete with its go-mental breaks. Girls are up on shoulders in the rain screaming “DONE. DONE. AND I’M ONTO THE NEXT ONE”.
Grohl references a recent interview question during the show. A question of his band playing an out-moded form of music, which he shrugs off, but it must have haunted him a bit to bring it up. What may be a classic rock set-up for a band, is still as straight and true as you’ll get in the genre. For every rasped vocal there’s a killer hook, a clever false ending, a punch the air moment. The sort of sounds that might have become a little staid for music media to be writing a lot about. But it’s a gold seam that the Foo Fighters exist in. From life-affirming, to ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ songs they skirt a middle without being MOR. Even Bob Dylan gave Grohl praise for ‘Everlong’ (and David Letterman got them to play it in his final show). If they can open this rainy day at the castle with arguably their best song, and one of the best rock songs of the last 20 years, then the other bookend must be sturdy.
Though the last number is actually a hidden-track style belt of AC/DC’s ‘Let There Be Rock’ the final Foos is something big enough to build a stadium around. Stage lights pour out in the the finally dark evening, the rain falls, flares light up and Grohl asks/yells “IS SOMEONE GETTING THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST OF YOU?”. You can only scream along through the grinning, the wet jacket, the cold feet and be 100% confident that everyone here today has got the very best of the Foo Fighters.
Slane 2015 photographed by Paulo Nuno.