At the first of the band's two rescheduled shows in the new Fillmore, Dave Grohl's star power resolved all questions.
I started to write one review of Wednesday night’s Foo Fighters show at The Fillmore, but when I checked my review of their 2017 set at Voodoo to refresh my memory of what they did, I saw that 95 percent of my comments on that night apply to Wednesday’s show as well. So rather than say the same thing or paraphrase myself, I’ll simply say start here. I’ll wait.
I stand by all the criticisms I had of that show and saw them play out at The Fillmore as well, but the show was more enjoyable despite them because 2000 or so people is probably the exactly right number of people for maximum pleasure at a Foo Fighters show. They’re unquestionably an arena rock band, but in an arena- or festival-sized crowd, the show becomes a little depressing. Does nobody else notice that a guy from a band that specialized in dynamics has so few in his music? That a guy from a band that found international success with such a specific identity has chosen such an unchallenging one? In a smaller room though, the feeling that you’re at an event overrides some of those questions.
The band played the House of Blues in 2014, and in retrospect, that was actually too small. As a musical performance, it remains my favorite Foo Fighters show because it was them at their most power pop—emphasis on “power”—but the audience wasn’t big enough to generate the kind of energy that the 2000 or so in The Fillmore did. People had traveled from around the country to see the show. I overheard people from Philadelphia and Austin talking before the show, and Grohl singled out a guy up front who’d held up a Hawaiian license plate with “Everlong” on it, as if there was chance this might be the first night the band forgets to play it. Their excitement was as palpable in the room as the music itself, and watching people in the back rows singing along as if Grohl might hear them added to the experience.
Still, it’s fair to ask why people pop so hard for Foo Fighters. One easy answer is the songs. They’re not genius, but they’re good songs played hard. That matters, particularly for their audience—Generation X’ers—which might be the last to embrace conventional verse/chorus song structures. They also have credible provenances, with Grohl coming from Nirvana and Pat Smear from The Germs. They’re not just any mooks. And, they’re the last band standing for people who want that kind of arena rock. They’re the natural inheritor of the Kiss/Aerosmith/Rush classic rock mantle, and two or three of the jams brought to mind—inaccurately, but still…—side three of Rainbow Live, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, or any one of a million 10-minute interludes in concerts from the ’70s that temporarily broke down into blues rock jams that prompted musicians in Chicago and Mississippi to utter a silent “motherfucker” into the galaxy because they could feel their music being bastardized somewhere.
But at least Foo Fighters do it without winking. They commit to their jams like they commit to their pop songs and like Grohl commits to everything he does. There’s no doubt about how hard he plays or how hard he sings. He has been injured onstage more than the average front man, including the torn bicep that caused this show to be delayed from last February because he works hard onstage, and American audiences particularly like work. Bruce Springsteen solidified his image as a working class guy by performing for at least three hours a night, and Grohl works similarly hard.
It helps that Foo Fighters are also a decidedly middlebrow band. Their songs aren’t profound, but they aren’t meatheaded either. There’s an obvious level of craft in their creation, and because of that fans feel good about liking them. They don’t have overlook too many clichés or problematic gender issues, and they don’t have to wince when singing along. The band was at its weakest when it tried on its mortar board for Sonic Highways, where the strain in the efforts to synthesize Grohl’s relationships with the cities in the series showed.
I still think the band doesn’t ask enough questions of itself and the rock ’n’ roll traditions it embraces, but Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters present themselves as fans first, musicians second, and that cements their relationship with their fans. They see themselves in him, and because he really is a rock star, they like what they see. And a good rock star can table almost any complicated conversation with sheer charisma and magnetism. The Foo Fighters’ Carnival-style parade that was scheduled to coincide with their original show date and the opening of The Fillmore would have sparked a lot of conversations about the commercialization of Mardi Gras and outsiders bastardizing our traditions, but I have no doubt that Grohl’s star power would have got him though that situation like it gets him through most situations with black T-shirt style and grace.