Last year, to mark a quarter of a century together as a band, Foo Fighters were meant to head out on “The Van Tour”, visiting some of the same towns and cities that Dave Grohl and the gang passed through for some of their first US gigs in 1995.
Before each of the shows, the plan was to screen a new documentary, directed by Grohl and produced by the rest of the band. It was, Grohl said at the time, to act as “a love letter to every musician that has ever jumped in an old van with their friends and left it all behind for the simple reward of playing music”.
None of that turned out as planned — the tour was rescheduled, and then cancelled — but the film still exists. Watching it now, What Drives Us no longer feels like some cheery concert add-on. Instead, with the idea of large gatherings now mutated from something wonderful into something dangerous, it feels more like an intoxicating reminder of everything that’s been stolen away from us.
In fact, I’d defy anyone to watch this 90-minute film, with all of its rose-tinted romanticism about the power of live music, and not feel compelled to call up their pals, get that secondary school band back together, buy a rickety old van off Gumtree, and drive off into the great unknown in search of the rockstar dream.
Grohl certainly has a lot of persuasive friends to put forward the case. The interviewees are a parade of rock veterans and newer favourites— everyone from Ringo Starr, Slash, Lars Ulrich and Exene Cervenka to St Vincent and Starcrawler — all of whom offer up anecdotes by the dozen. Many of the stories are enjoyably bonkers, too; punk legend Ian MacKaye remembers how sleep deprivation while on tour led to him hallucinating a row of dead piglets by the side of the road, while U2’s The Edge remembers being confronted by machine guns after accidentally driving into an East German military base.
It’s all dipped in a pretty humongous vat of nostalgia too, with the interviewees reminiscing at length about their origin stories, but it’s testament to the personable warmth of Grohl, who does all the interviewing, that these age-old stories are told with a sparkle.
It gets pleasantly puerile at times — there’s a fair bit of talk about the perverse hilarity of someone unleashing a weapons-grade fart while everyone’s crammed into the back of a van — but for the most part, with lots of archive footage, the film feels more like old friends catching up about The Good Old Days than any great exploration of deep creative urges.
Before Covid, such a thing might have suffered for its lack of epiphanies (people love being in bands, who knew?), but now, in this bleak reality, it does almost feel like a revelation. The documentary rams home the point that there’s nothing like live music, and you’d struggle to find anyone who disagrees. But after this whole ordeal, it’s something that you hope we’ll never take for granted again.
What Drives Us is out on Amazon Prime Video on April 30