Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant + More Bring the Party to Cal Jam ’17 [Photos + Recap]
Welcome to the biggest "backyard keg party" you've ever seen! As Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl explained to the audience at Cal Jam '17, the band had the idea about eight months to a year ago initially to do a record release party, but it evolved from there with the decision to revive the old school rock 'n' roll festival "with 22 bands and all of your friends." What evolved from there was an amazing day of music reflective of Grohl's taste and friends list that generated that "backyard keg party" vibe on a grand scale.
Taking over the spacious San Manuel Amphitheater, Foo Fighters transformed the San Bernardino grounds with a little something for everyone. Adopting the look of the '70s-era festivals, fans were greeted with a desert-colored rainbow upon entering the venue and old school graphics on merch. A crashed UFO was the first item viewed upon entering the venue, and out in the fields fans were treated to a water slide (which Grohl himself partook in early in the day), carnival rides, skateboarding exhibitions, tasty treats and the very well done Foo Fighters museum. The latter allowed fans to get their photo ops inside a Foo Fighters "white limo" or on a Foo Fighters throne modeled after the one Grohl used onstage after his broken leg. Other items included band instruments, paintings, photos, Grohl's actual cast, a white board from previous tracking sessions, the group's Grammy awards and a wealth of other memorabilia from throughout their career.
But the main attraction of the day was of course the music and Foo Fighters did a great job of delivering an eclectic lineup spread out over three stages. Out in the fields, bands alternated between the Mountain and Sun Stages that were located next to each other. Early day highlights included a solid opening set from Pinky Pinky on the main stage as fans started to file in, while Starcrawler vocalist Arrow de Wilde oozed stage presence in her white fringe outfit grooving around the Sun stage with the band's fuzzed out infectiousness. The group also provided the first Tom Petty nod of the day, paying homage to the late icon with a great cover of "Mary Jane's Last Dance." And Adia Victoria followed on the Mountain Stage with a perfect but unique blend of soulful vocals fleshed out with a bluesy rocking sound. Her Beyond the Bloodhounds disc is currently available.
If there was one drawback to Cal Jam, it was that of the time conflicts. With the main stage starting at the same time as the Sun and Mountain stages, this led to some tough decisions for festival-goers, especially as the day continued. But those who gave the Sun and Mountain stages a chance were treated to a raucous set from Fireball Ministry, making a triumphant return while working in music from newly released disc Remember the Story with gritty performances of older favorites like "Flatline" and "Rising From the Deep." And Bob Mould turned in one of the day's top sets, pulling from his vast catalog, while also opening the show with a bit of a tribute to his late Husker Du bandmate Grant Hart. Mould opened his set on a Husker Du roll with "Never Talking to You Again," "Flip Your Wig," "Hate Paper Doll" and "I Apologize" before transitioning to the Sugar era with "A Good Idea" and "Changes." The Sun and Mountain stages also saw White Reaper, Wolf Alice, Japandroids, The Kills, The Obsessed, Babes in Toyland and Bully rocking for fans.
But the Main Stage was a big draw throughout the day, with The Struts upping the energy level after Circa Waves and Pinky Pinky opened the day. The engaging rockers won over the crowd with charismatic vocalist Luke Spiller engaging the crowd in clap and sign-alongs, as the band delivered their infinitely catchy high energy rock. Songs like "Kiss This," "One Night Only" and their breakthrough single "Could Have Been Me" among others, but there was really no lull throughout the performance.
Royal Blood came next with Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher answering the question how much can one band rock with just two guys? Kerr sported a T-shirt of Janet Jackson, who actually was playing elsewhere in L.A. this weekend, and got things off on the right foot with "Where Are You Now." The crowd, which was starting to fill out crowd around the main stage, went crazy for Thatcher's heavy beats and Kerr's angular licks on "Lights Out." Other set highlights included "Hook, Line and Sinker" and "Figure It Out."
Liam Gallagher, whose new album As You Were, arrived this week, had a late start to his set and had to battle the harshest sun of the day with an overheated audience seeming a little bit drained, but once things started, he came out to the familiar "F--kin in the Bushes" Oasis opener and delivered Oasis classics "Rock 'n' Roll Star" and "Morning Glory," quickly gaining back the crowd, before transitioning to his new solo material. Among the tracks, "For What It's Worth," "Bold" and "Wall of Glass" show the promise of continued success down the road, with the latter track Gallagher dedicating to producer Greg Kurstin, who is one of his connections to the Foo Fighters. The set would not have been complete without a performance of "Wonderwall," which had fans singing along.
As the sun started to set, the Cal Jam crowd had no choice but to get a second wind as Cage the Elephant delivered one of the more electrifying sets of the day. Opening with a tribute to Tom Petty singing "Mary Jane's Last Dance," a suit and tie-sporting Matt Shultz bounded around the stage with Jagger-esque bravado and live wire moves. A scan of the crowd showed a sea of hands clapping along with "In One Ear" as Shultz shaky-leg danced across the stage. As hot as it was, you knew that suit and tie couldn't last and over the course of the show, more clothes were shed. Shultz, who got up close and personal with the crowd on multiple occasions, was down to panty hose and underwear while making sure his physical self matched the emotional nakedness he was putting out there. A string of hits like "Cold Cold Cold," "Trouble," "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," "Shake Me Down," "Come a Little Closer" and the set closing "Teeth" were greeted warmly and got the crowd sufficiently pumped for the rest of the night.
That left just Queens of the Stone Age prior to the night's headliner, and Josh Homme and crew did not disappoint. Playing amidst a series of light poles onstage, the band bounded around, often knocking the poles springing back and forth with their energetic set. "Tonight is our night," proclaimed Homme with fist raised as they began their set. Opening with "If I Had a Tail" and "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar," drummer Jon Theodore established himself early on as a powerful force for the band. The crowd went crazy for "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," and the swinging current single "The Way You Used to Do." Elsewhere during the set, there was a touching moment when Homme noticed a "Vegas Strong" sign in the crowd. He asked for the sign, held it up and told the crowd, "We are everything when we are together." Theodore's drumming was almost seismic on "No One Knows," while "Make It Wit Chu" had Homme splitting the sing-along between men and women. And Queens finished their set with such standouts as "Little Sister," "Go With the Flow" and "A Song for the Dead."
While it was a great day of music, there was no doubting why Foo Fighters topped the bill. Their set was epic. Opening with "Times Like These," Dave Grohl started on acoustic guitar after explaining the idea for his festival, only to be joined midway through the track by the rest of the band pumping up the crowd after the sparse opening. Monster hits "All My Life," "Learn to Fly" and "The Pretender" kept the energy high before the band made their first foray into the Concrete and Gold album. Welcoming a trio of backing singers, the band performed "The Sky Is a Neighborhood," then followed with their first guests of the night -- sax great Dave Koz and The Kills' Alison Mosshart -- for a performance of "La Dee Da." Producer Greg Kurstin stepped in on keys alongside Rami Jaffe on "Sunday Rain" and Kurstin's Bird and the Bee cohort Inara George helped out on "Dirty Water." Foo Fighters offered their own Petty tribute, singing "My Hero" and then popping up Petty's photo on the screen behind them as Grohl implored the crowd to "sing it for Tom."
The band got their chance to shine during a medley of classic tracks that included introductions and performances of "Misirlou," "Cat Scratch Fever," "Another One Bites the Dust," "Smoke on the Water," and, of all things, "Day O." "New best friend" Rick Astley joined the Foos onstage for their mashup version of "Never Gonna Give You Up" with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but not before the eternally babyfaced Astley's expletive-filled rally cry, giving Grohl a laugh. The guest parade continued with the introduction of Joe Perry, who actually played Cal Jam II in 1978 with Aerosmith, bringing it all full circle. Perry joined the Foos for "Draw the Line," then stuck around with Liam Gallagher handling vocals on the Beatles song and Aerosmith cover "Come Together." Gallagher relied on a lyrics sheet before eventually receiving help onstage and finishing out the song with a stage dive into the crowd. And no Foo Fighters show would be complete without their frequent closer "Everlong."
Check out our photos from Cal Jam '17 above and see a few fan-shot videos from some of the top acts below. To watch some of Foo Fighters' collaborations during their set, click here.
Foo Fighters Intro and "Times Like These"
Queens of the Stone Age, “Make It Wit Chu”
Cage the Elephant, “Cry Baby”
Royal Blood, “Figure It Out”
The Struts, “Kiss This”
Cal Jam '17 Poster
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