A Rock ‘n’ Roll Requiem for Taylor Hawkins in LA

Remember mixtapes?

Depending on your demographic cohort, perhaps your mixtape was a burnt CD or a Spotify playlist, but functionally, all these formats served the same purpose, even if they don’t all share the romance of constructing a custom cassette.

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Photo by Timothy Norris

Broadly, the idea is to use someone else’s art to express your emotions. An epic poem that’s a pastiche of the work of other poets.

There’s a certain craftsmanship to it and the artform itself has spawned plenty of paeans to the magic of it.

The common trope is that mixtapes were the path to someone’s heart. Movies and TV shows and books evoking a certain era will often include a montage of some poor sap building a tape to show just how deep his affection goes.

But mixtapes —or their modern digital analogs — don’t always have to be in service of unrequited love. 

Music evokes strong emotions and it expresses strong emotions across the entire spectrum of our humanity.

It’s not difficult, for example, to imagine a big sister making a tape for her little brother when she goes off to college or to imagine friends trading the tapes when one or the other moves across the country.

Nor is it hard to imagine a group of buddies working together to make the perfect mixtape to remember a friend gone too soon.

The Sept. 27 edition of the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert at Inglewood, Calif.’s Kia Forum was like that mixtape. If the mixtape was live and the friends in question were among the biggest names in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

The Sept. 3 Wembley Stadium tribute to the late Foo Fighters drummer, who died March 25, was full of emotional heft, the iconic image being Foos frontman Dave Grohl leaning on the mic in remembrance of his friend and bandmate.

It would have been impossible to replicate those emotions in LA. Everyone had emoted too hard and such things are unrepeatable without being overly sentimental or maudlin or just plain exploitive.

So Grohl & Co. didn’t try.

“This show rocks harder than that one,” he told the sold-out crowd mid-show at the Forum. “It’s apples and oranges.” 

There would be far fewer tears at the Forum than at Wembley and far fewer songs of sadness.

This was a rock ‘n’ roll requiem with an emphasis on the rock.

From the start, it was obvious this show was a gift to Hawkins, a nearly six-hour cavalcade of his favorite songs. Joan Jett jumpstarting the crowd with The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” and “Bad Reputation” was the sign that things would be different in LA.

Hawkins had a deep and wide affection for music. He loved, for example, Level 42’s 1985 hit “Something About You.” So, sure, the band’s deft-thumbed frontman/bassist Mark King came out to play it. Mark Ronson, who only knew Hawkins briefly compared to others on the bill, knew him long enough to know he loved Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down The Line” — there are two kinds of people in the world: “Right Down The Line” people and “Baker Street” people and Hawkins was the former — so he played the lead guitar and had indie crooner Andrew Wyatt sing.

Hawkins loved The James Gang — Grohl said he constantly wore a ball cap bearing the band’s name and may have been the only person on earth with said hat — so, sure, he called Joe Walsh and the eccentric genius got the band back together for the first time in 15 years and gave the crowd the great moment of looking back to see Grohl on a kit neighboring Gang drummer Jim Fox.

“Uh oh,” Walsh squawked Walshily before the band lashed into “Funk 49.”

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Photo by Timothy Norris

Desert rock idol Josh Homme, who served as the Martin to Grohl’s Lewis as a co-MC of sorts, grabbed a guitar for Them Crooked Vultures’ set and said “I don’t know why we are playing this, but we are.”

“This” was Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” 

All due respect to Homme — who did an incredible job with the song, which is about as far from Queens of the Stone Age as possible — but one assumes the band played it because Hawkins loved the song. And because at least once in everyone’s life, they should get to see John Paul Jones cover Elton John.

Def Leppard front man Joe Elliot said Hawkins, then a meager music store employee, once sold Phil Collen some guitar strings. Grohl mentioned that when Travis Barker was working in garbage collection in Laguna Beach, Hawkins told him he’d be a star one day (eventually Barker’s Blink-182 toured with the Foos). Jack Black introduced Rush by saying he once encountered Hawkins on the floor at the Forum before a Rush show.

One got the impression of Hawkins at the center of a rock ‘n’ roll timeline that stretched from Queen to Queens of the Stone Age and everyone he encountered — including at least a dozen of the genre’s best drummers — wanted to give him a gift.

The Darkness front man Justin Hawkins — perhaps the busiest non-Foo of the evening and certainly the one with the most costume changes — gave plenty of gifts, in large part because the metal- and opera-rock that featured so much throughout the night requires his special vocal gifts.

Nancy Wilson — with Pink on vocals rather than sister Ann — gave Hawkins “Barracuda.” Hawkins considered The Police’s Stewart Copeland one of his biggest influences, so he too took a turn behind the kit.

Mötley Crüe was there, because it’s LA, and Cars southpaw guitarist Elliot Easton was there because Hawkins loved The Cars, and so was a Seattle supergroup including members of Soundgarden and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic with The Pretty Reckless’s Taylor Momsen eliciting an extremely credible Chris Cornell guttural groan on “Black Hole Sun.” Sebastian Bach, Lars Ulrich and Geezer Butler joined up to play some Sabbath. Hawkins loved Van Halen — and wore those distinctive Van Halen red-and-black patterned pants — so Wolfgang Van Halen (with Justin Hawkins playing the part of Diamond Dave ) delivered “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher.”

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, who coincidentally played their last show with legendary drummer Neal Peart at the Forum, brought the lasers and the prog with the deep Rush cuts they knew Hawkins loved the most.

“Play the hits,” they say. Maybe not all the time. Maybe play the songs someone loves the most, even if they weren’t radio friendly.

If there was ever any doubt this wasn’t going to be a night of sentimentality, Alanis Morrisette — Hawkins was her touring drummer prior to his joining the Foo Fighters — put paid to the notion by strutting on stage and delivering a growling, howling version of “You Oughta Know,” one of the least sentimental songs of her era.

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Photo by Aysia Marotta

And if there was any idea the night would end without some sadness, Brian May quashed it. After torching through the crowd-pleasers in Queen’s catalog, he sat on a stool and played “Love of My Life,” because Hawkins’ wife Allison asked him to because it was the couple’s wedding song. Joined on stage for hugs with her daughters, she gave a silent salute to her husband and all the id and sweat turned to tears.

The Foo Fighters closed the evening, of course, and Grohl — who apparently has Ringo Starr-esque gift for getting anyone to play with him — had one more surprise in the bag: Dave Chappelle singing Radiohead’s “Creep.”

“Didn’t see that one coming, did you?” he asked, although it would have required the world’s most gifted and psychedelic clairvoyant to predict such a thing.

“Everlong” was the finale but the climax of the Foo set came just before. As he did in London, Hawkins’ son Shane played “My Hero” and “I’ll Stick Around” with his father’s band. He’s got his father’s talent and work ethic, but the smile that shone from the drum riser told a bigger story.

This mixtape wasn’t just a gift for Taylor Hawkins. It was a gift to those who loved him too.