Nirvana reunites at Cal Jam with Joan Jett: Here’s everything that happened during the Foo Fighters set

Tonight at the second annual Cal Jam Fest in San Bernardino, California – the festival put on by Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters – a much teased and anticipated event happened. They got Nirvana back together. Surviving members Dave Grohl and Kris Novaselic got together with Joan Jett, Pat Smear and John McCauley of Deer Tick – all of whom played with the band at some point – to pay tribute to the band in what has to be the most extensive Nirvana show since Kurt’s passing. The set was incorporated into the Foo Fighter’s headline performance, which was preceded by sets from the likes of Iggy Pop with Josh Homme and the Post Pop Depression band, Tenacious D, Garbage, Deer Tick and many more. So what went down during the set? Here’s a point by point account.

Foos opened with a string of tracks off Concrete and Gold: “Run”, “The Sky is a Neighbourhood”, “La Dee Da” and “Sunday Rain”. Then Dave gave the crowd a bit of an indication of how things were going to go: “Tonight we’re going back. Way back. One song at a time. We’ve got 25 years worth of songs to play with. Let’s go back”.

Indeed, they started by going back to their album before Concrete and Gold, Sonic Highways with “Something From Nothing”, and then “Walk”, all the while photos from the respective periods of their career was shown on the screen behind them. “One of these days” was dedicated to producer and drummer Butch Vig who had played earlier with Garbage. “I don’t know where he is, but I fucking love that guy”, Dave remarked. And with “Arlandira”, Grohl acknowledged the line “where’s my sweet Virginia?” is about his Mum, and he got everyone to sing for his Mum, in what was a pretty beautiful moment.

Here’s the full setlist:

Run
The Sky is a Neighbourhood
La Dee Da
Sunday Rain
Something From Nothing
Walk
One of These Days
Arlandria
The Pretender
Best Of You
Times Like These
All My Life
Learn To Fly
(Intro Jam Session ft. Another One Bites The Dust etc.)
My Hero
Everlong
Monkey Wrench
For All The Cows
This is a Call

With half an hour left following the twenty-five year trip down memory lane, covering just about every single the band have released over the years, it was finally time to see what they had in store for us with that much-teased Nirvana tribute. The band left the stage, and the stage crew built a completely new set up for what was to come, with a drum kit off the riser the most notable difference.

And then up on the screen came Dave Grohl with Pat Smear, Krist Novoselic (who played earlier in his band Giants in the Trees), and then John McCauley and Joan Jett. They played three songs with John on lead vocals, Dave on drums, Krist on bass and Pat Smear on guitar: “Serve The Servants”, “Scentless Apprentice” and “In Bloom”.

Then Joan joined for three. First “Breed”, then “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The set closed with Brody Dalle (Homme) joining on bass for “All Apologies”, with Krist moving onto the accordion after getting the crowd to give a “cheer for Kurt”, which saw Grohl get a bit emotional. And with that, the anticipated set was a wrap, delivering more than anyone could have imagined. The Nirvana players took a bow and Dave said to the crowd, “Thanks Cal Jam, we’ll see you next year,” seemingly confirming the band’s festival would return in 2019.

Stay tuned for more on ground from Cal Jam – including a full event recap – on the AU!

The journalist travelled to Los Angeles from Sydney for the weekend courtesy of Delta Airlines and attended as a guest of the festival. 

Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.