Last night in Los Angeles the sold-out crowd gathered at the Kia Forum witnessed what was arguably the biggest, loudest and most star-studded rock show any music fan could dream up. Rush played, then Queen. P!nk performed with Nancy Wilson of Heart and again with the Foo Fighters. Miley Cyrus sang with Def Leppard. Wolfgang Van Halen shredded on Van Halen hits “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher.” Alanis Morissette tore through “You Outta Know.” A rotation of many of the most crucial drummers in modern music took turns at the drum kit. Jack Black was there. Even Dave Chapelle sang.
A six-hour marathon, the show was powerful, often giddy, occasionally somber and genuinely legendary. And yet, it is fair to say that every single one of the artists and spectators in attendance would have rather there had been no reason for this concert at all.
The occasion was a just one: to honor Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters’ drummer who passed away suddenly on March 25 in Bogotá, Colombia while in town for a Foo Fighters show. He was 50 years old.
Hawkins — one of the most respected and beloved drummers in music and a bridge between the generation of classic rock acts he so adored and modern rock icons — was mourned across the industry and among his global fanbase, with his death leading to a pair of tribute shows. The first happened earlier this month in London and the second happened last night (September 27) in L.A., roughly 50 miles north of where Hawkins grew up in Laguna Beach.
This proximity gave the show a familial, hometown vibe, with entire sections populated by Hawkins’ friends and family. Fans in the 17,000-person crowd turned out sporting Hawkins and Foo Fighters tattoos and t-shirts. Many wore the same style of orange cheetah stripe leggings Hawkins often played in. Even the Forum employees manning the bar were spotted singing along. The show — which benefitted the charities MusiCares and Music Support, which supports musicians in the U.S. and U.K. — started at 7 p.m. and ended just after 1 a.m., with the crowd barely thinning during over its six hours. Several of those who had been at both the London and L.A. tributes were reporting a somewhat lighter and much more rock-centric vibe than the tear-soaked performance earlier this month in the UK.
While there were certainly tears in the crowd and onstage at various points throughout the evening, the atmosphere was indeed one of palpable love for and celebration of a singular life and artist and the music and people that brought him joy. There are few greater demonstrations of love and respect than simply showing up for somebody, and last night many of the all time greats showed up for Taylor.
The bill was like something from rock fan fiction — an amalgamation of many of Hawkins’ favorite bands — with the litany of guests turning out to play Foo Fighters’ greatest hits and deep cuts alike. Included were: Chevy Metal, The Coattail Riders, Kesha, Greg Kurstin, Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow, The Darkness, John Paul Jones, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Miley Cyrus, Nancy Wilson of Heart, P!nk, The James Gang, Queens Of The Stone Age, Elliot Easton of The Cars, Steward Copeland of The Police, Sebastian Bach, Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Krist Novoselic, Taylor Momsen singing with Soundgarden, Wolfgang Van Halen, Rush, Queen and, of course, The Foo Fighters, whose Dave Grohl MC’d the night, sharing Hawkins anecdotes between songs and breaking down in tears at the end of the Foo Fighters’ show-closing set.
Here are ten highlights of a show that included simply too many to count.
Kesha Sings Bowie: Performing with members of Hawkins’ cover band Chevy Metal, Kesha delivered a soaring cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” that used her wail to full effect. Looking extremely rock and roll, she performed in a sequin cape and silver mesh bikini top which broke during the song, revealing the silver star pasties she had on underneath. “Not to make light of this situation,” she said in acknowledgment of this wardrobe malfunction, “but Taylor would have loved that my tits just fell out.”
We Believe In Thing Called Love: Justin Hawkins (no relation to Taylor) of The Darkness did a lot heavy lifting during the show, joining members of the Coattail Riders in a performance of The Darkness’ classic “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” while wearing a sea-foam green skin tight bodysuit in the tradition of ABBA. He later traded this outfit for a similar ’80s rock getup (on which Taylor Hawkins’ hawk symbol, which was projected on walls in and outside of the venue, was embroidered) and handled vocal duties for Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” and “Panama” before duetting with P!nk on Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” A spirited and charismatic performer, Justin Hawkins was also clearly dripping in love and admiration for the Hawkins he was playing in homage to.
Jack F—ing Black!: Coming onstage sporting a psychedelic cat t-shirt and a salt and pepper beard, Jack Black told a story of coming to the Forum for Dave Grohl’s 45th birthday concert in 2015. “Taylor just f—ing tore it apart,” Black recalled, “and I snuck backstage before the show started and I poked my head into Taylor’s dressing room and he was just f—ing practicing hard as hell, and it was a beautiful thing to see. He was serious. No f—ing around. He really meant it, and it was important to him. He didn’t want to do a good show, he wanted to f—ing blow peoples’ minds, and he did it. He did it every time.”
Ooh, Barracuda: The crowd went nuts following the announcement of Nancy Wilson of Heart, and even more nuts with the introduction of P!nk. Together, the two women did an absolutely pummeling version of Heart’s 1977 classic “Barracuda,” with P!nk showing up elsewhere in the show to sing “Somebody To Love” with Queen and “The Pretender” with the Foo Fighters.
Miley Cyrus Leads Def Leppard: In a pairing that makes perfect sense when you think about it, Cyrus did vocals for Def Leppard as the UK legends burned through two of their all-time classics, “Photograph” and “Rock Of Ages.” Platinum blonde and dressed in a short black dress and black sunglasses that stayed on for the duration of her performance, Cyrus was scorching on every level, while Def Leppard sounded as tight as they did in their heyday.
Dave Chappelle: At about 20 minutes after midnight, Chapelle came onstage to inexplicably and gloriously sing Radiohead’s “Creep.” “Rest in peace Taylor Hawkins, we love you,” Chapelle said before dropping the mic and exiting the stage. “You didn’t see that one coming, did you,” Dave Grohl commented.
Rufus Taylor Has a Moment: The Darkness drummer (and son of Queen’s Roger Taylor), played drums extensively throughout the night, breaking down in tears at the end of of the evening and having to take a moment with his head in his hands on the kit before resuming the show. After, Taylor was embraced by Hawkins’ wife Alison, who was sitting near the kit with the couples’ two daughters. Alison and her kids also briefly appeared onstage earlier in the evening, with Alison simply lifting her arms in the air to receive the cacophony of cheering being directed towards her and the family.
Love Of My Life: One of the night’s most touching moments was Queen’s Brian May performing the band’s 1975 song “Love Of My Life” on acoustic guitar. Said May before playing the ballad: “I got a message from Alison Hawkins saying ‘I want you to do this song. I want everyone to do this song for me. I want you to do it for me and Taylor, because it was our song. It was played at our wedding…get everybody to sing it as my gift to the love of my life.'”
The Drummer Boys: For obvious reasons, taking on drum duties during the show was a special honor that was shared by a rotation of legends including but not limited to Travis Barker, Tommy Lee, Flea, Weezer’s Pat Wilson, The Police’s Stewart Copeland, Metallic’s Lars Ulrich, Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk, Queens Of The Stone Age’s John Theodore and Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron, who together thrashed at least four drum kits that were erected onstage throughout the night.
But The Best One Of All Was Certainly…: Hawkins’ 15 year old son, Shane. As he did at the Wembley show, Shane Hawkins crushed on the drums while playing with the Foo Fighters’ “I’ll Stick Around” and, in one of the teariest moments of the night, on Foo’s “My Hero.” Crying and cheering both felt appropriate, and indeed a lot of us did both.