Taylor Hawkins’ LA Tribute Concert Set Aside The Grief To Celebrate An Icon

Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in dorm rooms or bars has been asked what song they want to be played at their funeral. Like wedding first dances and personal theme songs, these are age-old quandaries with the big caveat that none of us will actually hear the music at our own funeral. You’re essentially curating the music you’d want to hear, what you’d want others to hear, and how you want to be remembered, all at the same time.

Now, I never met Taylor Hawkins, but after attending his tribute concert in Los Angeles on Tuesday, as well as seeing highlights of the London iteration, I’d bet that his answer would change with the weather or the time of day, depending on the meal he just had or the last person he spoke with. As his longtime bandmate and dear friend Dave Grohl said during the concert, Hawkins was a musical encyclopedia, knowing everything about every great album and reading everything he could find about music. So, over the course of six hours, the pervading feeling was that if Hawkins could curate a concert, this is something close to what it would look like, touching on the music of his childhood to the songs he helped create.

Music isn’t everything in life, but for Hawkins, it wasn’t just a job or an interest, it was a way of connecting with his friends and family, and becoming the best version of himself.

Foo Fighters
Andreas Neumann

And that’s something important to note here. This concert wasn’t just a concert. Yes, it’s also a fundraiser for Music Support & Musicares, but that’s not what I’m getting at. It was also a way to tell the story of Taylor Hawkins, in the very High Fidelity way that says that someone’s taste is a crucial defining characteristic. To sum up, what you like is an integral part of who you are as what you are like.

Hawkins’ taste meant forging friendships with his heroes, be it Rush or Stewart Copeland. It meant not just getting opportunities to tour with Alanis Morissette and then become a Foo Fighter but sitting in with legends like Stevie Nicks and Joan Jett. His standing with the Foo Fighters surely gave him widespread access to his heroes, but it was that taste, that enthusiasm, that unbridled passion for rock and roll that turned interactions into meaningful, lasting relationships.

Even if someone wasn’t deeply familiar with the work of Hawkins — who died suddenly at the age of 50 in March — it is conceivable that they’d leave the six-hour music marathon feeling like they knew him. They’d meet his family — son Shane Hawkins delivered cathartic, joyous drums to Foo Fighters’ performances of “My Hero” and “I’ll Stick Around,” while his wife and daughters all came on stage to emotionally wave to the crowd following Brian May’s rendition of the Hawkins’ wedding song “Love of My Life.”

They’d meet people who played with Hawkins in his early days and his Foo Fighters bandmates with whom he spent the last couple of decades traveling the world. They’d hear stories about his blasting of Soundgarden on the way to the studio or meeting Travis Barker before either being famous or being spotted in the crowd at a Rush concert by Jack Black. They’d see how much he was admired and enjoyed by his peers, enough so that bands would reunite and songs that he loved would be attempted, all in the name of showing just how much he was loved in return.

Miley Cyrus Def Leppard
Danny Clinch

But that gets back to the shame of the whole concert — that Taylor Hawkins couldn’t attend himself. For a show that featured Hawkins’ originals performed side-by-side with some of his favorite numbers, no one would have enjoyed the show more than Taylor. For many fans, it still played like an evening at rock and roll fantasy camp, but where we get a glimmer of meaning behind Mark Ronson performing “Right Down The Line” for Taylor or Miley Cyrus learning the Def Leppard song that Taylor had suggested to her. No one would be able to appreciate the moment quite like Taylor.

This also gets at the lasting feeling of the Taylor Hawkins tribute concert, how unknowable we all truly are to each other. In many ways, the songs we like, the bands we’ve seen, the relationships we form — these are breadcrumbs to the unknowable, clues that show how a mind works and what we find meaningful. It’s the way we can piece together how each other sees the world. And for Taylor Hawkins, it comes down to an exuberance, where his huge smile could radiate with the ardor that he approached the things — and people — he loved.

Anyone that watched the London live stream knows that the Los Angeles edition had quite a different tenor throughout. Whereas the London concert still saw fresh and open wounds on display, LA was able to feel more celebratory, where the appreciation of who Taylor was took center stage over mourning the artist we lost. Both are crucial steps as his band and family carry on, whether they can look at Hawkins’ life and be reminded of the joy he brought them, rather than just the void he left.

Standout moments like Josh Homme singing the songs of The Cars or Pink’s fronting of Heart were captivating enough for the audience to temporarily forget the impetus of the concert. There would be moments that would bring the weight of the moment back — Rufus Taylor drumming out of his mind on “Best Of You” and then needing a moment to compose himself while hiding his face from the audience, Alanis Morissette embracing Grohl after a feverish “You Oughta Know” that said more than any speech could — but mostly the music sidestepped overt sentimentality. Van Halen, Motley Crue, Def Leppard — these are groups about embracing the moment, about living life loudly. It’s how Taylor would have wanted it.

A life can’t be boiled down to a concert, to six hours of togetherness. The impact of Taylor Hawkins’ life in particular is only just beginning to be felt. Appearances by his son Shane and Grohl’s daughter Violet served as reminders that the stories go on after our lives, that the legacy and influence endures. But for this night, for this time together, 17,000 fans got to feel his presence one more time, to celebrate his life through the music and people he loved. To live a life that inspires such a thing… that’s all any of us could hope for.