Cal Jam 17
Glen Helen Amphitheater
October 7, 2017
When the original California Jam went down in Ontario back in April of 1974, Liam Gallagher wasn’t even two years old. But when it returned for a follow-up over 43 years later, the former Oasis frontman stole the show — even if he was relegated to performing his solo act long before the sun went down.
Aside from Gallagher expertly fusing his signature snark and his own current tunes from his brand new release As You Were along with Oasis classics like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” “Morning Glory,” and (of course) “Wonderwall” as the nearly 100-degree sun beat down on San Bernardino, the modern incarnation of Cal Jam delivered a wide variety of acts during daylight hours. From the retro vibe of the Struts to Japandroids’ hard-hitting punk rock, many forms of rock were pretty well represented leading into the evening of the festival — which obviously saw a heavily increased security presence after the tragedy in Las Vegas last weekend — but one name seemed to loom over the entire event: Foo Fighters.
From a somewhat self-indulgent museum — complete with everything from Grammys to props from music videos — to the amount of merch available to the two-hour timeslot, the Foo Fighters were clearly made out to be the centerpiece of the day-long (because they certainly didn’t do much to sell the Friday evening pre-concert) three-stage festival. While Dave Grohl and company have certainly earned the right to headline such an event, the nature of their radio-friendly mainstream-as-can-be rock music combined with a day of temperatures above 90 degrees (although the evening was delightful) and a location in the middle of nowhere seemed to create a slightly more relaxed and indifferent crowd than one might expect from a major rock ‘n’ roll festival.
To their credit, the “Monkey Wrench” rockers filled their extended set with treats for the audience ranging from pretty much all of their hits (starting with “Times Like These,” “All My Life,” “Learn to Fly” and “The Pretender” and closing with a riveting performance of “Everlong”) to special guests — including Joe Perry for a pair of covers as well as Gallagher returning to sing on the Beatles’ “Come Together” after bringing out Rick Astley himself Rickroll the crowd with “Never Gonna Give You Up” as they did on some shows earlier this year. It was everything a fan could want from a Foo Fighters concert, it was just a lot to take in for those of us whose journey to San Bernardino began before noon.
Along with the spectacle of the Foo Fighters — which is probably best described as “modern classic rock” despite the phrase really not making any sense — Queens of the Stone Age delivered the best sounding set of the day (and possibly the year) in their supporting role, as Josh Homme and his band blasted through 15 tracks with the heartfelt energy and skill to have headlined on their own if needed. From giving one of the day’s most touching tributes to the Las Vegas victims to leading singalongs through songs like “No One Knows” and “Little Sister,” the 44-year-old singer and guitarist used what could be considered a hometown performance for him as an opportunity to show how both timeless and current his band’s message and music really is.
In summation, Cal Jam 17 proved that radio rock is still very much alive and well, but a lot of the crowd that appreciates it is just a lot more content sitting through it with a $15 beer than getting there early to sweat through their clothes in a moshpit. From Cage the Elephant to the Foo Fighters, the biggest billed bands all lived up to the hype on a day when memorials and tributes were as prevalent as hit singles and guitar solos, and the biggest mystery of the day was simply why there were so many near-empty vendor booths specifically selling vodka-lemonades rather than just including it with the rest of the bar. Also, Liam Gallagher is still one of the greatest frontmen of all time and can still pull off wearing a hoodie and shorts better than arguably anyone else on the planet.