Friday night at Ak-Chin Pavilion, Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foos played almost two and a half hours of relentless rock ’n’ roll, and Grohl had a smile on his face the whole time.
Not too many pop stars come to Phoenix on the weekend. Taylor Swift played Monday and Tuesday. Sam Smith is playing on a Wednesday. Madonna will play on a Thursday. Janet Jackson comes on a Monday. Even Van Halen, far removed from the height of its career, is coming on a Monday.
The bottom line: You go to an arena concert in Phoenix, you don't get a crowd that's letting it all out that night. You get a crowd anxiously checking its watch. On the other hand, the band has typically just played a string of shows in different cities and has no reason to make a weeknight performance something to remember.
The Foo Fighters didn't have this problem.
It all started with Grohl, the frontman who played the entire concert with a guitar in his lap and seated on a rock ’n’ roll throne, which looks like the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones made with guitar necks instead of swords.
Early in the tour, Grohl got overzealous at a show in Sweden and mistimed a stage jump, landing in a security pit and breaking his leg. The band had to cancel a handful of dates, but Grohl was undeterred. He sketched out a design of a throne he could play from while seated, and the tour continued.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my rock ’n’ roll fantasy," Grohl said early in the show, one of many times he casually chatted with the packed pavilion. "I had a dream that I would one day be sweating my balls off on a throne in 100 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona."
The band ripped through a set containing more than a dozen of the band's radio hits, representing all stages of the band's 20-year career. Up first was "Everlong." "Monkey Wrench" followed, which transitioned into "Learn to Fly." "Something from Nothing" came next. Seeing Dave Grohl sit on his throne, playing guitar, leaning back on his chair and kicking both legs into the air like a rock ’n’ roll Humpty Dumpty, was one of the best images of the night.
Grohl pounded one theme into the audience all night long: The Foo Fighters rock; the Foo Fighters play rock ’n’ roll music, and this concert rocks.
"Guess what? I love rock ’n’ roll music," Grohl shouted to massive cheers at one point. "Guess what? How many of you people like rock ’n’ roll music? You like it, don't you? You wanna dance?"
After "The Pretender," Grohl took some time out to explain his seated predicament.
"We almost didn't make it," Grohl said, referring to his accident. "This is not the biggest bummer ever. This turned out to be the most fucking fun on tour we've ever had."
Grohl dedicated the next song, "Big Me," to the crew behind the scenes, which had to adjust on the fly to a newly immobile lead singer and brand new (and ridiculous) stage prop. "But it's you I fell into," Grohl sang, a nice little pun for the dedication. This song kicked off a trio of songs that played like the "broken leg joke" part of the concert — "Congregation" ("step into the light) and "Walk" ("learning to walk again/I believe I've waited long enough") followed.
The entire show seemed designed to show off just how awesome a person Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foos are. Dave Grohl wished a teacher in the crowd happy birthday, launching into a story about his mother, a public schoolteacher. (He quipped he loved teachers so much he dropped out of high school.) As mentioned above, he thanked the crew. He introduced the band and let each member have a mini-feature, where they each played part of a song where their instrument took the spotlight. When the crowd liked drummer Taylor Hawkins' vibe a little too much, Grohl cautioned, "Don't freak him out. He's like a rescue dog. You gotta be cool around him."
The band displayed infectious and showed no signs of wear after two decades together. I couldn't help thinking of the Aerosmith concert earlier this year, where Steven Tyler and Joe Perry and the rest of the band seemed out of sync, bringing to mind the long history of trouble between the two musicians. This didn't happen for the Foos.
Rock ’n’ roll isn't just about power chords and attitude. It's more than style. It's about interaction; it's about a group of people coming together to create a musical vision. And it works best when everyone involved. At one point, Grohl called Hawkins his best friend, and the two went into a bluesy little back-and-forth between drums and guitar.
"That's what happens when you're in a band with your best friend. You can read each other's minds," Grohl said with a giant, boyish grin on his face afterwards. The audience didn't respond to the jam like the crowd would have at, say, a Widespread Panic concert, but people waited patiently and indulged the band politely.
Grohl and company showed they knew how to read a crowd. Unlike Taylor Swift, whose tour has famously featured cameos from other celebrities but who failed to bring anyone on to the stage with her in Phoenix, the Foo Fighters had a surprise up their sleeve. The singer announced that he had met a new friend in San Diego the night before and wanted to bring her on stage to sing a song. None other than Jewel, the country singer Phonecians adore, came out on stage to sing "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin. It was a match made in heaven, at least on paper. Phoenix loves a good country singer. Quality-wise, let's just say it was very apparent that the band had barely, if all, rehearsed the song with Jewel and was basically playing it by memory. Nevertheless, Jewel has a tremendous voice and let loose some mighty wails. Chris Shiflett did a pretty okay job playing Jimmy Page's iconic guitar solo when the time came.
The band played four more songs after that, and the crowd filtered out into the parking lots. Rock ’n’ roll might not be part of the zeitgeist anymore. It's been more than a decade since any rock band dominated the national conversation like hip-hop and pop artists currently do. But that's not to say rock ’n’ roll is dying; it's just grown and splintered into factions. The Foo Fighters aren't saving rock ’n’ roll; rock doesn't need to be saved. They're simply one of its last remaining stalwarts capable of selling out an arena while making it look fun. And that's what makes them special.
Last Friday Night: Foo Fighters at Ak-Chin Pavilion.
The Crowd: Diverse.
Random Notebook Dump: "He screamed everything. Barely sings. Kind of irritating. This isn't a Cattle Decapitation concert."
Random Notebook Dump 2: "I should write a column called 'why everyone else is wrong.'"
Learn to Fly
Something From Nothing
Cold Day in the Sun
All My Life
Times Like These
What Did I Do? (with Gary Clark Jr.)
Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover, featuring Jewel)
Skin and Bones
This Is a Call
In The Flesh (Pink Floyd cover)
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