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It was unofficial Foo Fighters Day in Austin Tuesday, as the five-piece provided the perfect mid-week bridge between the film and music sections of the SXSW festival. From the moment they pulled up to the Paramount Theatre in a trio of white vans to introduce the world premiere of their documentary Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, to the moment they hit the last screeching note at a small but energetic show at Stubbs five hours later, Dave Grohl and company had the crowds eating from their shredding palms.
The documentary, from director James Moll, is a pretty straightforward, if genial, look at the Foos from their infancy in the mid-’90s to their current arena-packing iteration. Or what Grohl joked beforehand as “the history of us getting fat.” (It will have its television premiere April 8 on VH1.)
Wisely, Moll gets the Nirvana history and Kurt Cobain’s suicide out of the way first, so viewers can focus on the creation of the Foos and their ascension to rock grandeur. Grohl does make one funny comment about the oddity of suddenly having jocks and meatheads show up at Nirvana shows after Nevermind hit: “Jocks? They like our music?” he remembers thinking. “They used to kick my ass for listening to this music.”
The film goes on to document the typical woes of a successful rock band: the firings, the replacements, the in-fighting, the side projects, the jealousies, the overdoses, the near-dissolutions—even hot sauce in the eye on stage. Along the way Germs and Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear comes and goes (and then comes back), Sunny Day Real Estate drummer William Goldsmith leaves while SDRE bassist Nate Mendel manages to survive all 16 years (though in a funny revelation it turns out he quit once for 24 strange hours), Alanis Morissette’s drummer Taylor Hawkins comes aboard, Scream guitarist Franz Stahl—a former bandmate of Grohl’s—quickly comes and goes and No Use for a Name guitarist Chris Shiflett joins after an endless open audition. (Grohl, Smear, Mendel, Hawkins and Shiflett all showed up to the screening with Moll.)
Meanwhile, the band records seven albums, including the latest, Wasting Light, with a variety of producers, wins a bunch of Grammys and ends up playing to more than 80,000 fans in Wembley Stadium in 2008 in a truly emotional payoff. In the film’s denouement, Moll shows the band recording to tape in Grohl’s Encino garage with guest musicians Bob Mould and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, while Grohl’s young daughter impatiently waits to go swimming as he records a guitar part. (It is pretty cute.)
Odd little facts unveiled in the picture include the fact that after Nirvana dissolved, Grohl was offered a job as Tom Petty’s drummer. Before going on stage at each show, the guys used to hold a “band prayer” consisting of anywhere from one to ten shots. And Grohl jokingly describes the Foo Fighters as “the worst fucking band name ever.”
“Rock and roll is imperfection,” Shiflett says at one point toward the end of the doc. It’s a worthy assessment, for sure. And while the documentary is fairly conventional, the performance the Foos put on at Stubbs an hour later was something closer to perfection.
Everyone wanted in, with lines five-thick going in both directions around the block, and those that managed to find the right wristband filled out the dirt-packed plaza and witnessed a typically high-energy band in high spirits.
“We’re fucking movie stars—yeah!” Grohl shouted from the stage. “You wanna hear the new record?” Without waiting, he hit the first notes of the new album’s ten tracks, which the band played consecutively with no real breaks. It was good, solid, standard Foos fuzz-rock with requisite screams and surprisingly catchy choruses. When the last note ended, Grohl simply said, “And that’s the new record.”
“This isn’t,” he added, and the Foos kicked into “One By One,” which the crowd rocked into immediately. The band proceeded to play what Grohl described as “massive fucking hits”: “Times Like These,” “My Hero,” “Learn to Fly,” “Monkey Wrench,” “Everlong,” “Best of You,” “This Is a Call” and a couple more.
All in all, the Foos (some of whom looked pretty worn out by the end) played for nearly two hours, while another band waited for the stage. A couple of the songs seemed a little rushed and sludgy, but there’s no question that the crowd was way into the show, looking to drag out the imperfection as long as they could.
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