Lollapalooza 2011, Sunday: Foo Fighters
Forgive me if I can’t help thinking of Dave Grohl as the (older) kid next door who hit it big by following his dream. That’s who he is to me–quite literally, we saw Star Wars at the same mall (I’m guessing) Springfield Mall in his hometown and our moms taught at the same high school, Annandale High School—a school, and this is where it comes oddly full circle—Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill attended. There many more connections than that—when I first picked up cheap group drum lessons, two kids in the class consistently wore homemade Dain Bramage T-shirts to our lessons. Soon, I became a fan of Dain Bramage, too. Grohl’s drumming was already much talked-about before he joined local hardcore outfit Scream—a band which happened to have the most working class and the most Virginian perspective of all of the Dischord label acts of the ‘80s. Grohl fit right in.
But what of Star Wars—if it's about the kid next door thrust into battle against a universe of evil and discovering powers he never thought he had, I may be on to something. As we know from YouTube, Grohl, in Ian Mackaye’s ”hey, you, asshole”-frontman style, can break up a crowd fight at a massive show from the stage. Does that make Grohl modern rock’s Skywalker? A kid from a Springfield apartment block that’s leading our ragtag rebel forces? Dunno if that will wash in the daylight, but with the state I’m in at this moment, it’ll do.
Sunday night at Lollapalooza, the Virginian was in a position to do good in the fight for raw emotion, dynamic live performance and inspiration in our still often manufactured musical mainstream. But what he had to contend with was nature. A storm swept in a dumped what must have been inches of rain before the Arctic Monkeys set. And 20 minutes into the Foo Fighters headlining slot, dark clouds came in again, pounding us all with intense rain for a good song or three. Let’s not pretend that didn’t suck. It was awful.
But as Grohl noted later, the rabid crowd up front was unmoved by the elements—and his band soldiered through with smiles on their faces. Playing a six-piece with Pat Smear back on guitar and Rami Jaffee on keyboards as well as bassist Nate Mendel, guitar wizard Chris Shifflett and drum god Taylor Hawkins sporting a red Venice T-shirt ever so briefly, the Foos mustered a big bold sound at will. Grohl’s growl and murmur had no trouble cutting through—and the band, which played an epic club gig last night at the Metro, seemed about as fighting fit as its gonna get. Grohl ran around the stage visibly pumped before launching into Bridge Burning from Wasting Light. The new album material got a solid airing with “Rope” next, then the Foo’s opened up the catalog with “The Pretender” from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace—and that’s when the infernal rains came in.
Between “My Hero” and “Learn to Fly,” Grohl explained that he’d come to “play as many songs as we can in a short time” and that was largely true, though the band stretched out and extended tunes to serve the ebb and flow, tension and delivery of the big rock show. Next, with the intense “White Limo" and then “Arlandria,” the band went into the most angsty and personal songs on the new album. As with just about any Grohl lyric, there’s not enough there to really figure out what it definitely means—but if referencing the burb where you grew up and wishing fame would go away in the same breath is a clue, perhaps Grohl’s contending with where his rock career trajectory has taken him.
Midway through the set, Grohl subtly morphed from our Skywalker to our Seger, a different kind of hero, with the modest goal of sending us home satisfied. This Grohl, Segerlike in his beard and black T-shirt and everyman persona, turned to stadium rock moves—the extended jam, the drum solo, etc.—perhaps combined with Fugazi-level quiet/loud dynamics to take the show to a different place. An epic version of “Stacked Actors” had Grohl walking the corridors erected for crowd control, getting himself mixed up with the unwashed masses and even trading licks with Shifflett from there before getting back to the stage. That might sound like standard big rock show stuff, but it brought a good bit of life to the set tonight.
Soon after, Grohl, sounding like a grizzled seventies rocker, took an opportunity to rail against programmed music. “I like it when rock and roll bands come up and play their instruments and don’t use fucking computers,” he said. The drum solo came in an extended and powerful “Monkey Wrench,” probably still among the Foo’s most effective tunes.
But it would be going into “Times Like These,” when Grohl talked about going from checking the weather in his hotel room and thinking the Arctic Monkeys were going to get it the worst of it to getting rained on like hell himself that the Foo Fighters got me with that cathartic thing they do so well. “I’m glad it rained like fucking crazy,” Grohl said before starting the tune, strumming solo. It was a high point, an emo punk moment if you will translated for a big, drunk fest crowd. It was nicely flipped, within minutes, against a raucous cover of The Who’s take on Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues.” An ace response to the financial meltdown in my book. Over the course of the night, the band thanked Perry Farrell and Lolla for changing music forever, even teasing the riff from Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song.” Hawkins went so far as to thank the L.A. band for saving his life.
Foregoing an encore, Grohl and gang squeezed in the uncharacteristic “Skin and Bones” (its more of a reflective tune with a bit of an organ jam in it) before wrapping up with the quintessential Foo tune, “Everlong.” Somewhere in the course of the night’s show, Grohl had revisited the shadows of his suburban Virginia past, and intersected with a few of mine, too.