Dave Grohl's Godlike Genius Award from NME shortly before this gig is a definition of debased currency. For the better part of two hours after two years away, he leads Foo Fighters through a show of fearsome stamina and volume. When he says "this could take all night", like Al Jolson you believe him. But as drummer in Nirvana or leader of his own amiable band, Grohl will never surprise you no matter how long he plays. His unasked for, universal acknowledgement as the Nicest Man in Rock isn't itself a creative act.
Comparisons with a man with very different flaws are unfair. But if you made them, you'd have to say that the Foos are a band Kurt Cobain might have formed to hide from expectation, not meet it. There's a sharp little drum fill on the single "Rope", one of several songs from the upcoming new album, Wasting Light, tonight. Apart from that, normal service is resolutely resumed.
"My Hero", like "Learn to Fly", "Times Like These" and the probably Courtney Love-damning "Stacked Actors", faintly draws on the poignancy and resolution of Grohl's early career. Though honourably meant, it's as generically comforting as Coldplay. Heard blind, it's the sort of rom-com soundtrack staple Bon Jovi would murder for. The simple pop alchemy of "The Pretender" hides an invocation to resist the fakery and doublethink of the now receding Bush years, but you'd have to listen very hard to know it. Grohl's decency is never in doubt. He just can't help keeping the musical results clean.
The return of Pat Smear to Grohl's left brings the phalanx of guitarists to three. You suspect that ten would be more like the ultimate rocking sound he hears in his head. Hundreds of punched fists (and an ambitious, doomed crowd-surfer who sets off from the middle of the arena, and sinks far from his goal) show he connects to many. The sight of a young man in a black rocker's jacket carefully filling a pint glass with regurgitated red wine in the Gents also suggests that, for some, this still counts as the sort of Bacchanalian rock show Grohl attended in his own, itinerant Midwest youth. The antiseptic surroundings and sounds can be overcome if you try. But as Grohl references a Foos gig of 16 years back – making Nirvana's career a mere speck – and salutes the loyal British "old men" who've stuck with them, it's clear he is still a fan himself. From his stentorian spoken Rock Voice to his throat-shredding howl, to the guitar-player shapes thrown while muscularly roaming the stage, he could still be in front of his teenage mirror. The leap through the looking glass is sadly beyond this maker of athletic, soft-rock music.
This NME Big Gig has more entertaining moments. Cee Lo Green, noting he's at a rock show, wears a black biker's jacket, and is flanked by a gorgeous, black-catsuit-clad female band. "What do I do for a living?" he wonders. "I do what I want." Wembley's cavern neuters the finest, most complex young soul singer around. But it suits Band of Horses, whose warmly communal Southern grunge guitars give pleasure I can't find at the bill's top.