Story by Gray Shades
In the vortex of the so far short shelf life that is the history of rock 'n' roll (it is only 60 years at this point, vs. say Shakespeare, classical music or jazz. Hell, even TV is older), we are living in an age with limited generational superstars. U2 has seized the mantra from the Stones, various bands move in and out in borrowing The Who's position (Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Radiohead), The Velvet Underground is replaced every five years by a new purveyor of indie rock who moves things slightly forward. But we live in a moment where there are huge bands in the UK and abroad who are not huge in the States, and vice versa. One of the few who's able to live in all corners of the world's rock landscape is Foo Fighters.
Pause for the moment and do the research: a band which is into its second decade of producing meaningful music; a band which has put out more material and has been around twice as long as it's forefather Nirvana; a band which front man Dave Grohl has held the current lineup in place since 1999, nearly three years longer than his stint behind the Nirvana kit. You're not able to achieve that kind of longevity unless you're able to resonate musically with the most important critic around -- the fan.
Last night, with a theater marquee displaying the Billy Joel-Twayla Sharp musical Movin' Out, Foo Fighters entered --nay, created-- a new pantheon for their place in the current rock world by delivering a mesmerizing 100-minute acoustic showcase of their 11 years of material. Without gimmickry, special guests or artsy production, the band took an already amped-up 2400 person crowd at London's Apollo Victoria on a varied, creative and intimate musical journey. Whether in a large room, arena or UK Festival, Foo Fighters have always been a band capable of creating intimacy with their audience, mainly because of their ability to sonically, loudly, tear your face off with their songs, all the while a friendly smile and joke when you need to catch your breath. Multiply that effect by 50 to understand how intimate it got Wednesday night in London.
Coming out to a raucous crowd solo, Dave Grohl took seat at center stage with an acoustic guitar on his lap and launched into the dark and seductive "Razor" from last year's In Your Honor double CD. With a room quiet as possible, Dave plucked through this tale of obsession with grit and craft, building it to a conclusion where the other three Foos (Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett & Taylor Hawkins) joined him onstage along with the additional players Foo Fighters have brought together for these special acoustic performances. In an instant, this quiet, subtle song is now an edgy acoustic jam, flush with noisy melody. Stepping into "Still," a song that on record contains airiness, the band makes it a groove, with the dewdrop guitar of the album being washed over by a full, growly rave-up. There's moments you can hear the soft delivery style of Husker Du's Zen Arcade, and others where it's Neil Young.
With an intro to the crowd that this was going to be "almost as fun as playing an in your face rock show," Dave sets the stage for the evening with the crowd: a lot of songs from the acoustic side of the In Your Honor double CD, a lot of songs from the Foo Fighters' catalog the band rarely gets to play, and some the crowd might see Saturday in Hyde Park. As the manic and seated London crowd peppers the band with requests ("we've got the set list right up here"), Dave (mock) impatiently waits and points out late arrivals; and the crowd shouts to be bought beers ("I get mine for free, bitch! And it's cold." is Dave's response), the set takes shape with last year's acoustic numbers, "On The Mend," "Over And Out" & "Another Round," alternating with Foo Fighter album delicacies, "Walking After You," "Next Year," and "Ain't It The Life," the latter suddenly sounding like it belonged on REM's Reckoning.
With additional players Rommey Jaffe (Wallflowers) on piano/keyboards/organ/accordion; Petra Haden on violin/mandolin/and more; Drew Hester on percussion; and Pat Smear (Germs, Nirvana, Foo Fighters original member) back on additional guitar, all of these songs take on a new fullness: Pat enthusiastically, effortlessly adding big Gretsch licks, Haden's strings meshing with Jaffe's keyboards to layer the songs and add new intricacies, Hester's percussion complimenting and expanding Hawkins' solid, easy backbone on the drums. Mid-set, when the band jumps into "See You," a rarely heard tune from 1997's The Colour & The Shape, the previously moody, dark angle of the show has switched to full scale hootenanny, led by a group of musicians battling in one-upsmanship, smiling the entire time. Part boogie-stomp, part jazz, part hee-haw fun. When they start "Floaty," a song the band hasn't played much since their first ever tour in 1995, he hands to lead vocal over to Haden, who's angelic, intoxicating voice cuts through the old theater in brilliant fashion. For those of you who missed the Petra Haden bandwagon it's not too late to join. She is the daughter of jazz legend Charlie Haden, filled out the early '90's in the well-respected rockers That Dog and after a long recovery from being hit by a car, was part of two genius albums in 2004--a duet record with jazz guitar buzz factory Bill Frisell and star of her own solo record. Her solo record was a note for note rendition of the classic Who album The Who Sell Out --but all done vocally. Every musical part, every instrumental part, was Petra's voice, recorded onto an 8-track cassette and easily the most underrated album of 2004. (Her next effort in this vein is currently being worked on and is vocal versions of classic Hollywood movie songs. She's currently working on Psycho.)
After Petra finishes mesmerizing the crowd with "Floaty," it's onto "Virginia Moon," where Petra and Dave share vocals in a jaunty, relaxed clip. The deeper into the set Foo Fighters go, the more engaging it all becomes: "Cold Day In The Sun" (sung by Hawkins on drums) and "Miracle" from In Your Honor are a perfect combo and set-up an amazing ending of the rarely heard, enveloping "February Stars" and a steady, crowd-pleasing "Times Like These." A 3-minute standing ovation leads to a terrific encore manned mainly by Mr. Grohl. Rather than sitting, he stands and performs solo one of the first songs he'd ever written, declaring it over 15 years old. As he plucks through "Friend Of A Friend," a song written about Kurt Cobain pre-Courtney, pre-Nevermind, pre-change the world rock icon, the room is silent as Dave sings the chorus "No One Speaks" while his fingers glide over his acoustic, the mic picking up every chord change and finger movement. As it ends the crowd rushes to its feet and slathers Dave in cheer, making him, as he says, "nearly choke up." Surprisingly, he launches into a solo version of last year's thunderous single "Best Of You," screaming it as ferociously as when playing it in stadium-rock mode, before closing with the signature "Everlong," dedicated to audience member James Hetfield from Metallica, with the rest of the band returning for the last blistering minute.
This was only Foo Fighters second ever full acoustic band show; Monday night's warm-up in sort of nearby Ipswich being the first. It serves as the prelude for this summer's US acoustic dates, most of which have already sold out. Want to see something truly special this year? Find a way to get tickets to this defining moment for this stellar rock band.