Live: Those about to rock

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THIS SIDE of the pond, most of us first encountered Dave Grohl when Nirvana performed "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on The Word. Flailing at his drums like Animal from The Muppets, he seemed like your stereotypical skin-beater; big heart, low IQ.

After Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, however, Grohl switched to guitar, settled on the Foo Fighters moniker, and quickly established himself as a songwriter. His band's eponymous 1995 debut was a solo record in all but name.

Four years on, Grohl is back with a new Foos' line-up and a third album, There is Nothing Left to Lose. Lyrically, it is preoccupied by questions of authenticity: for example, "Learning to Fly" seems to document his frustration with the vacuousness of Hollywood.

Tonight, Grohl took to the stage wearing a tight-fitting Seattle sweatshirt and told Brixton's faithful that "grunge was never born, so rock can never die". I couldn't gauge the level of irony in that platitude, but it was clear that neither he nor his audience had forgotten that grunge gained some impetus from an intrigued Blighty. As crowd-surfers rolled stage- ward like human tumbleweed, you could almost buy into the claim that rock still matters.

Which it does of course, because thirtysomethings and above forget that, for those fresh-faced moshers for whom year zero was Nevermind, the thrum of an electric guitar is a lot less passe. At Brixton, that generation gap was further emphasised when a gorgeous, understated version of "Ain't It the Life" met with less fervid applause than Grohl or this writer had anticipated.

Somewhat inevitably, the main set closed with "I'll Stick Around", still the Foos finest moment, and the song which prompted one critic to label them "the hardcore Beach Boys". Then, just as all seemed to be segueing to a predictable denouement, things got strange for the encores.

"Are you guys ready for something really cool?" asked Grohl. We were. Drummer Taylor Hawkins started hammering out the "thwack, thwack, oomph!" of Queen's "We Will Rock You", and suddenly there was Brian May, ludicrously anachronistic in his tight, black canvas jeans. What they actually played, though, was "Now I'm Here" from Queen's 1974 Sheer Heart Attack album, Hawkins eventually vacating his drum-stool to let Roger Taylor have a go.

Clearly, the Foos still know how to tap into the carnivalesque spirit on which youth thrives, but their rehabilitation of Freddie's former band- mates only served to highlight how, increasingly, rock is wasted on the old. "That's Brian fucking May up there," said Grohl.

I suspect Kurt Cobain might have said exactly the same - for entirely different reasons.