“I’ve been a musician a long time, and I’ve played a lot of shows…But I’ve never played a show like this one before!”
The crowd roared back, and although he could have probably said just about anything and elicited the same response, the sentiment certainly felt true. Last night the Foo Fighters played the National, a roughly 1,500 capacity venue in downtown Richmond, VA after a fan led campaign sold $70,000 worth of tickets to a show that didn’t exist. The Foo Fighters decided to play along and come to the city for the first time since 1998, but instead of setting up shop in the arena they could have easily sold out, they elected to give the fans something truly special, an intimate show exclusively for those crazy enough to buy tickets to imaginary shows.
The city has been understandably pumped since the show announcement two weeks ago. Local favorite Sugar Shack Donuts bought $5,000 worth of tickets and spent the past week giving them away in increasingly zany fashion (what started with a simple raffle and a YouTube cover contest soon escalated into a “donut hurling” competition, city-wide scavenger hunt, and a deluge of “depserate karaoke” videos). You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing the local rock station talking up “Foo Fighters Week” and playing the songs back to back and again and again. And to top it off, the mayor proclaimed the day of the concert to be an official Foo Fighters Day.
So, yes, people were excited. And arriving at the venue, seeing a line down the street and around the corner, you could tell this was no ordinary show. People began showing up at noon for the 7:00 door time, holding up “DV GROL” license plates, tour shirts dating back to the 90s , and entire families decked in Foo Fighters gear. Chants of “R! V! A!” (short for Richmond, VA) and “Foo! Figh! Ters!” could be heard down the block. Once inside we squeezed together. And as one does at concerts, impatiently waited.
Local group Avers kicked off the show. Something of a supergroup of Richmond rock bands (with member of The Trillions, Hypercolor, and several others), their presence was a welcome nod to the grassroots nature of the show, spotlighting a bit of local talent. Not that Avers need any favors. The psychedelic haze that was slathered all over their excellent debut record was scraped off for their live setting, showcasing a powerful rhythm section and pounding riffs. Girls With Headaches was an especially strong highlight, dirtying up the laid back groove of the original with snarling guitar leads and a drum break that damn near bowled over the rest of the band. Guitarist / keyboardist / rock & roll jack of all trades Charlie Glenn put in an early challenge to Dave Grohl as “guy having the most fun possible on stage” while the band ripped through the track’s twists and turns to arrive at a squealing solo to top things off and elicit one hell of a cheer from a crowd that was mostly oblivious to the group moments earlier. Conversations overheard afterwards placed the set somewhere in between “pretty good” and “pretty DAMN good.”
But no matter how damn good an opener could be, we were here for the cult of Dave Grohl.
And the Foo Fighters would not disappoint. They opened with a three note riff sounding out into the dark, repeated, then the near whispered intro: “All my life I’ve been searching for something…” You’d have been hard pressed finding a single audience member not maniacally shouting back to Dave’s subdued growl. “Leaves me with the feeling that I feel the most, feel it come to life when I see your ghost…” the riff kicks in, drum fills pour down from the stage, lights flare, and suddenly, we’re in the middle of a Foo Fighters show. Dave embraced the love, finding breaks in the songs to nearly fall off the stage maniacally pounding riffs out of his guitar, extending songs into punk rock riff-fests and audience screaming matches. I’ll Stick Around, from the group’s now 20 year old debut was next, apparently thinking he could stump the crowd he yelled out “sing along if you know it!” Which of course the people did, responding to the challenge with a unison “I DON’T OWE YOU ANYTHING!”
Since I keep mentioning it, I should probably get it of the way now that there were a lot of sing-alongs. Choruses were shouted in jumping frenzies, the group in front of me took to screaming in each other’s ear and high-fived for every song they knew (hint: all of them). Grohl led us through an a capella version of My Hero that was chill inducing and Everlong did exactly what Everlong does to people regardless of the setting. Best Of You was finished off with the crowd providing the backing Oohs as the evening culminated in a frenzied barrage of drum fills and probably-shouldn’t-be-legal guitar strangling.
But outside of the many hits, the real reason people can get so excited for a Foo Fighters show is the sheer force of personality of Dave Grohl. One of the very few true rock stars left in the world, there’s not really anyone else that brings that level of enthusiasm and generates such overwhelming waves of positivity on stage. Just about every song ended in a shit-eating grin, with the audience in rapt attention whenever he decided to slow things down and talk to us for a while. Just 100 miles south of his hometown of Springfield, VA, he had the crowd say hi to his Mother sitting in the balcony. He picked out of the crowd the guy who started the crowd funding event and dedicated Up In Arms, prefacing with a tongue in cheek “You’re gonna know what it’s like to be loved by Dave Grohl, so open up your ear holes and let my love in.” Local metal institutions GWAR and Lamb Of God were given shout outs and song dedications (Cold Day In The Sun for the late Dave Brockie of the former, Weenie Beenie for the latter) while he shared his earliest memories of Richmond: Namely getting far too high and seeing GWAR.
Dave also liked to mention that they had been a band for the past 20 years, and it showed. Never content to simply play the song straight-up, the band continuously found creative ways to break into asides and trap doors. Poppy guitar hooks seamlessly transitioned into metal riffs and blast beats, giving way drum fill laden rave ups. Taylor Hawkins seemed determined to match Dave’s intensity at every opportunity, his arms a constant blur from mammoth fill to mammoth fill. Monkey Wrench was easily a highlight of the evening, turned from a taut rocker to expansive showstopper. Verses were interspersed with 70s punk rock guitar flourishes before leading into a psychedelic-ish interlude, Grohl playing a two note riff as the band behind him rises and falls in intensity, going from spacey, effects-laden solos to a straight ahead Who-esque build up.
The first set closed on Everlong, a visibly ecstatic Grohl urging us to sing our hearts out. And we did, of course. And as the song hit its climax, and we waited for that beat of rest in the song that precedes one final go-around of the chorus the band stopped completely. Silence, until the crowd roared its approval. Grohl stood motionless, a slight smile on his face, basking in the affection and the energy. For a moment, the song no longer felt like a romantic plea, but more of a summation of experiencing something fully. If a rock & roll show can provide anything meaningful, it’s that pure moment of catharsis between an audience and the music and the artist. We were asked, “if anything could ever feel this real forever,” and we responded with a resounding yes.