Foo Fighters Bring Surprise Guests, Massive Set to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium

Nine things we learned at the latest stop of the "Sonic Highways" trek
Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP
Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl

"It's not often I come to a gig and kick off my shoes," Dave Grohl told the crowd on Friday night as he began his three-hour parade across the Ryman stage, barefoot and sporting black-metal style corpse paint in honor of All Hallow's Eve. As far as events go, this was the hottest one in town — scalpers trying (and failing) to charge $600 bucks a pop, fans lined up outside in skimpy costumes begging for a plus-one. The Foo Fighters planned this special (relatively) small-scale show at Nashville's Mother Church to herald the release of their HBO documentary series, Sonic Highways, and tease their upcoming LP of the same name, due November 10th.

For twenty bucks a pop, attendees got the epic-length performance and a screening of the Nashville edition of Sonic Highways — sure, a little bit of outrage ensued over what seemed to be blink-and-they're gone tickets, but this was never exactly designed to be a proletariat event (more like the rock 'n' roll lottery). As proof, specially designed t-shirts available only at the show were sold to lucky concertgoers looking for bragging rights (and for those willing to pay five times the retail price on eBay to pretend they, too, were there).

"I don't know if I'll ever feel this stage again," Grohl said as the sneakers came off and his toes touched the hallowed ground, before launching into a show that was part retrospective, part primer, part loose and unpredictable journey peppered with covers and special guests. In addition to learning about Grohl's champagne preference (Veuve Cliquot, which he and guitarist Pat Smear sipped throughout the evening, straight from the bottle), here's what else we learned.

1. Dave Grohl is a true steward of rock 'n' roll.

The former Nirvana drummer has made a niche for himself as a preservationist of crossover-free rock — becoming a filmmaker of sorts (with his documentary debut Sound City) and championing the salvation of endangered studios and influential venues. Grohl lives it too — Foo Fighters might not be the trendiest band on earth, with no cloying Imagine Dragons-style drum charades, no looping synth beats, no ornamental banjos — in this case, that's a very good thing indeed. With nary a gimmick in site, the Foos plummeted through their set with a fire that was pure, unabashed rock, distilled to its most basic and true elements.

2. The Foos really like Nashville.

Though you might most readily connect them with Seattle, the Foos seemed pretty at home in Tennessee — and downright reverential when talking about Nashville's music history. Sonic Highways' Nashville episode was a veritable love-letter as much as it was a champion for an endangered legacy. "The roots of the city are still fucking here," Grohl told a cheering crowd. "But you have to fight to keep them." Further cementing the point, drummer Taylor Hawkins sported an "I Believe in Nashville" shirt by local clothier DCXV. Most importantly is their new song "Congregation," that's anchored by a spiraling riff and namechecks the Bluebird Café and Zac Brown's Southern Ground Studios, where the track was recorded, paying tribute without once making a cliché stab at the city's signature sound.

3. They shut up and play the hits.

This isn't a band that takes pride on playing only their most obscure tracks for fans who know every corner of their catalog — for the first half of the show they chugged through hit after hit, from "All My Life" to "My Hero" to "I'll Stick Around" — not at all like jaded, bored marionettes who have done it time and time again.

4. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

Grohl told the audience that he lost the Thomas Jefferson High School battle of the bands in ninth grade when he played a version of David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure." Good thing he didn't throw in the towel, because, as he proclaimed before launching into a cover sharing vocals with Hawkins, "I win." Clearly.

5. Grohl shreds on guitar, but he morphs on the drums.

Switching off with Hawkins for a Cheap Trick cover and taking to the drums atop a holy tower, his hair started to fly and his jaw went slack as it did in those early Nirvana days. And it's clear for this brief interlude who his original mistress really is. Once a drummer, always a drummer.

6. Country pairs with the Foos rather flawlessly.

From Zac Brown joining the band for Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" (and hitting Ozzy Osbourne's notes with perfect pitch and no embellished twang) to the legendary Tony Joe White taking a seat for "Polk Salad Annie" while the band geeked out, the country-punk combinations made easy sense.

7. Pat Smear can play the guitar with just about anything.

And he did — by using a champagne bottle as a finger slide, and then dragging the instrument around on stage by the strap like he was walking a dog, letting light touches to the stage push the reverb. Who needs whammy bars?

8.  They know their demographic.

"I hope you have babysitters," Grohl said, "because this is going to be a long fucking night." Sure, plenty of youngsters like the Foo Fighters, but Grohl also embraces that many of their fans have grown up, had kids and escaped for the night to headbang their semi-bald crowns at the stage while their sons and daughters are asleep.

9. Encores are for chumps.

Instead of leaving the stage, waiting for customary applause and returning quickly, Grohl proclaimed they weren’t going to participate in such charades — they were just going to keep playing and, when they were done, be done for good. Which they did, at around 2:00 a.m. It was a great night for those lucky enough to be in attendance — and for the charge-per-hour babysitters back at home.

Set List:

1. All My Life
2. I’ll Stick Around
3. Rope
4. The Pretender
5. My Hero
6. Learn to Fly
7. White Limo
8. Arlandia
9. Cold Day in the Sun
10. Something From Nothing
11. Generator
12. Walk
13. Polk Salad Annie (with Tony Joe White)
14. Monkey Wrench
15. Hey, Johnny Park!
16. Stiff Competition (Cheap Trick cover)
17. Under Pressure (Queen and David Bowie cover)
18. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (Van Halen cover)
19. Breakdown (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover)
20. Best of You
21. For All the Cows
22. Weenie Beenie
23. Congregation
24. War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover with Zac Brown)
25. Everlong