Foo Fighters at the Forum: Concert Review
Dave Grohl used to be all about the drums. As one-third of Nirvana, he kept the beat (and, as time and history would show, had a hand in background vocals, melodies, song structure, production, etc.) while late frontman Kurt Cobain kept a crowd entranced, entertained and often encouraged -- to get just fucked up enough to think they were having the greatest night of their lives. Today, Grohl is practically a guitar god and the undeniable star of his own show, and it’s hard to imagine a time when that wasn’t so.
For most, stage presence is a skill that’s born, but it can be learned and perfected, as Grohl, Foo Fighters frontman for 17 years and counting, has proven in staying power. Whether headlining a small club, as the Foos did during a run of secret shows just prior to the release of their seventh album, Wasting Light, or returning to L.A.’s famed and doddering Forum for a two night-stand Thursday and Friday, Grohl, ever the equal opportunity rocker, makes sure you get the same experience: an onslaught of guitars and sweat, with sing-alongs and laughs a plenty.
Joined by perma-members Nate Mendel (bass), Taylor Hawkins (drums), Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett (guitars) and touring player Rami Jaffe (keyboards, accordion), the first Forum show kicked off with a 25-minute hello that included new songs “Bridge Burning” and “Rope” along with “The Pretender,” off the band’s last album, 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, and Foos classic “My Hero.”
The big bang opener then led to a breather and a warning: “It’s gonna be a long fucking night,” said Grohl, now 42, in a barely veiled attempt to weed out the faint of heart (or eardrum). “We don’t play those fuckin’ two hour shows your favorite band plays… Let’s try and get it to three tonight.”
He wasn’t kidding. Four weeks into the two-month U.S. tour, the band has honed a 25-song set that covers most of the bases -- radio hits like “Stacked Actors,” “Monkey Wrench,” and “Learn To Fly” show up in the set's first half, while “Big Me” and “I’ll Stick Around” were noticeably absent -- and features more than its share of new songs. For most arena shows, the latter would be a colossal bummer, but not where the Foos are concerned. Their latest, recorded entirely in analog by Nevermind producer Butch Vig, stands on equal ground with some of their best work, and rocks just as hard.
Still, Grohl clearly felt like much of the crowd at the 18,000-capacity venue (the show did not sell out) could use a refresher, as he bolted through the audience on a ramp that splits the general admission floor in half. Mid-way, he’d stop and pose for a picture, maybe even let an enthusiastic fan strum a chord, or otherwise find some way to get up close and personal -- literally. At one point, Grohl pulled off the Chubby Checker dance, at another later in the show, he took a nasty spill while dashing up the stage stairs, but recovered quickly.
But while he has the energy of someone 20 years his junior, Grohl, who filled in on drums for opener Cage the Elephant on Tuesday night (Cage’s rhythm man Jared Champion needed an emergency appendectomy), couldn’t help but take a jab at his aging audience, inserting a line into the song “Breakout,” that went something like this: “You make me dizzy running circles in my head / One of these days I'll chase your mid-40s ass down.”
Not that anyone was offended -- in the eyes of these loyalists, Grohl can do no wrong. He’s like the super-cool, somewhat kooky older brother you wish you had entertaining everybody at normally torturous functions like family dinners. In fact, Grohl even went around the table, so to speak, asking his bandmates to reveal the first Forum show they ever attended. Although failing to mention his own (perhaps when Nirvana played the Forum in December 1993?), the answers were quite telling, with Shiflett copping to seeing Quiet Riot with Whitesnake opening, Jaffe taking pride in his reveal of Rush, and Smear, a native Angeleno, founding member of punk band The Germs and a veteran of area concerts going back four-decades, one-upped them all with the Rolling Stones who had Stevie Wonder as an opener. Booyah!
In truth, outside of being a "hometown gig," this Foo Fighters concert, not their first at the Forum, wasn’t particularly special -- the set list basically mirrored Tuesday night’s, the solos and jams came in the same spots -- but what’s considered average in the scale of Foo, equals spectacular in comparison to the rest of the touring acts sludging their way across the land, fewer and fewer of them rock bands. Indeed, rock music's wonky state of relevance was made abundantly clear when the Foos delivered the night’s two cover songs -- the first, Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh,” sung by Hawkins, and the second, Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” which left half the audience elated and the other confused (and seated), the result of a generational gap, most likely. You can imagine how they reacted to a surprise appearance by Fee Waybill of the Tubes for the Foos’ number “Miss the Misery.”
But there was still plenty more familiarity to be had. The band turned up the crunch and distortion as the show continued, with Grohl giving every ounce of guttural grit to songs like “Let It Die” and “All My Life.” He did, however, get to rest a bit during an acoustic portion that began with the song “Skin and Bones” and continued into the encore with “Long Road to Ruin,” “Best of You” and “Times Like These.” It was then that Grohl took a spot on his own private stairway to heaven, situated towards the back of the floor, which gave those audience members who thought they had crappy seats, an instant front row view. It was appreciated.
“I can see every one of you,” said Grohl, surveying the crowd with the house lights on. “I used to freak out, but not anymore – you’re Foo Fighters people, it’s all good. If I wasn’t standing here, I’d be standing right fucking there.” It was the perfect sentiment to sum up an unbelievable 17-year ride and one “fucking fun” night (Grohl’s words). Two hours and 45 minutes after hitting the first harmonics on his sky blue Gibson, the show's closer, "Everlong," left no Foo fan unfulfilled, but perhaps united the diverse lot in a singular thought: “There goes my hero, he’s extraordinary.”
Learn to Fly
Cold Day in the Sun
Let It Die
Skin and Bones
This is a Call
In the Flesh? (Pink Floyd cover)
All My Life
Long Road to Ruin
Best of You
Times Like These
Miss The Misery
Breakdown (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers cover)