For anyone not in the know, CalJam is the birth child of Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. Debuting in San Bernadino, about an hour and a half drive from LA, the festival hosted a huge lineup including Cage The Elephant, The Kills, Royal Blood, Liam Gallagher and Babes in Toyland.
Like any festival in its first year, there were some teething problems – mainly around the availability of food, drink, and facilities – but if they choose to bring it back next year these things are an easy fix.
As a result of poor Google maps navigation, and a longer than expected walk from the parking area, I arrived at the festival late and only saw half of Royal Blood’s set. The last festival I saw them at put them on early too, and while the bands who played after them are arguably bigger, they’re easily at a level to warrant a later spot.
They got the crowd going by asking if they were excited to see the bands following them on the main stage – Liam Gallagher, Cage The Elephant, QOTSA, Foo Fighters – and finished their set with the huge “Out of the Black.”
Over on the side by side Sun and Mountain stages, Wolf Alice attracted a decent crowd, considering the open space and intense heat radiating from the sun. Many chose to lounge under trees at the back of the space rather than braving the sun, but those who persevered at the front of the stage were given a close up view of the skill and showmanship that goes into creating their raw, distorted sound. Riot Grrls Babes in Toyland followed, and delivered a set of their signature raucous, unapologetically ballsy tracks.
Over on the main stage, it was business as usual – sunnies, sarcasm, and scowls – from Liam Gallagher. Tracks from his latest solo album got a mixed reception from the crowd. He finished his set by saying “Because you’ve been so great, here’s a song you’ve never heard before,” and then played “Wonderwall.” As he walked off, he expressed his gratitude to the CalJam crowd by saying “Thanks a lot, you’ve been useless!”
Luckily, Cage The Elephant were there to raise the mood right after. It has been almost six – very long – years since I’ve seen them play and even though I have missed them terribly, their CalJam set was worth the wait.
Dressed in suit pants, a button down shirt, tie and vest, Matt Shultz charmed us early by throwing himself all over the place, writhing along the ground as he sang, and standing on the amps on either side of the stage. The band also set off red and purple smoke sticks, and fire sticks, at different points in their set.
Shultz then stripped off his shirt and tie, and later removed his pants and vest so he could, in his words, stand naked before his fans so they would know him better. Having no pants on didn’t stop him stage-diving into the first rows of the crowd during set closer “Teeth.”
As they shuffled off amidst smoke and flames, the crowd got ready for Queens of the Stone Age.
They walked onstage to a huge reception, and opened with “If I Had A Tail” from the 2013 album …Like Clockwork. I was surprised by this choice of an opener, given the plethora of hits they could choose from their back catalogue, but of course they knew what they were doing. They were easing us in with an unexpected opener so they could build up to the best set any of us are likely to see from them.
What they played in what order isn’t that important in this set, what’s important is the way it brought us together. Like a punch to the throat, they hit me hard, and left me scrambling for air by the end. As I left the mosh pit, people around me were echoing that sentiment and saying their minds were blown by what we’d witnessed.
After they’d played the aforementioned “If I Had A Tail”, “Millionaire…” and “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”, Josh Homme noticed a sign in the crowd, and asked to have it on stage. It said “Vegas Strong” on one side, and had the names of all the people killed in last week’s attack on the other. The sign remained on stage behind him for the whole show, a reminder of how lucky we were to be able to spend the night together.
Tracks from latest album Villains fit seamlessly into the set, and we got to see “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”, “The Way You Used to Do”, “The Evil Has Landed” and the surprisingly electrifying “Domesticated Animals.” The new tracks sounded tight live, and the energy radiating from the stage throughout showed they loved playing them.
The usual hits “No One Knows”, “Make It Wit Chu” (complete with crowd singalong), “Little Sister”, “Go With The Flow”, and “Sick Sick Sick” made appearances and were all well-received.
It was set closer “Song for the Dead” that really made everyone crazy. The crowd were pounding their arms along to the guitar riff and the drums, screaming the words along with Homme, and moshing like they had a death wish.
After a fantastic drum solo by Jon Theodore, during one of the fake finishes in “Song for the Dead”, Homme looked out at all of us and said, “This is it! This is fucking it!” and started to tear up a little. “Even if you don’t like us, don’t like our music, it doesn’t matter – what matters is we’re all here together.”
With that, they played the final part of the track and walked off stage, leaving us to somehow go back to normal after sharing in such a special experience.
Foo Fighters know what they’re doing every single night they perform. Their live show is incredibly polished, rehearsed, and completely fine-tuned.
Some of their greatest hits: “Times Like These”, “All My Life”, “Learn to Fly”, and “The Pretender” opened the set, which got everyone in the mood for more fun. The set featured a lot of banter – both with the crowd and other members of the band – drum solos, band introductions and surprise guests. Yes, the whole CalJam festival got Rick-rolled!
Rick Astley wasn’t the only guest to join the Foo Fighters’ set. Joe Perry and Liam Gallagher got up to sing The Beatles‘ “Come Together.” What could have been a unifying moment for the crowd was sadly just Liam Gallagher forgetting the words, bringing someone from the crowd on stage to help, and then disappearing to crowd surf, while the rest of the band continued playing, maybe hoping to entice him back. The sentiment was there but Gallagher was not.
“Everlong” finished the set, and the night for CalJam.
CalJam had up a number of carnival rides, including a huge ferris wheel, and the water park at the edge of the venue provided many with a spot to relax and get out of the 35 degree heat during the day. There was also a Foo Fighters museum that contained a lot of old pictures of the band, the Grammies they have won to date, and Dave Grohl’s throne from when he toured with a broken ankle.
Overall, the festival was enjoyable and fun, and the mountain scenery surrounding the festival grounds added a lot of natural beauty. I will definitely return if it becomes a regular annual festival.
The reviewer attended this event on October 7th.