At the start of the Foo Fighters headlining show on the Firefly Music Festival’s main stage, Dave Grohl promised the crowd that the band would play “until they tell us to shut the fuck up,” — and he kept his promise.
Performing a good 15 minutes past their scheduled 11:45 p.m. end time, and playing an encore as a cover band called The Holy Shits, the Foos treated the cheek-to-jowl crowd with a two-hour-plus endorphin rush-of-a nightcap on Friday (June 20) that left festival-goers singing on the way to the parking lot.
Grohl began the show alone onstage with one of his signature smoky blue Gibsons. “Hi, everybody. My name is Dave. How are you?” he said, prompting a massive cheer from an audience that ranged from starry-eyed teenage boys in their late teens to cutoffs and bikini-top wearing women in their 20s to alcohol-stoked husbands and wives in their 40s and 50s. The roar of the crowd grew even louder when Grohl, who grew up in Virginia, reminisced about his youth in the DelMarVa region.
“Every time I smell a Grotto pizza, Goddamn!” he said, referencing a local chain that “when you were drunk off your ass,” sent you home in a cab.
After declaring, “I fucking miss you guys a lot,” – one of many characteristic f-bombs he would drop during the night – the former Nirvana drummer opened the show with a solo version of “Times Like These” from the band’s 2002 album, “One by One,” which had the crowd singing along from the get-go.
It was one of the few mellow moments of the show. At 45, middle age has broadened Grohl’s face and expanded his girth, but he plays rock and roll with the enthusiasm and energy of a teenager. And once the rest of the Foos joined him onstage to close out the opening number, Grohl and his band turned in an organ-rattling, crowd-pleasing performance that made for a proper and memorable homecoming.
Although Grohl told the audience that Foo Fighters have an album in the can — “eight fucking bad-ass songs” due out this fall that were recorded in eight cities (and an accompanying HBO series directed by the frontman) – and said, “We’ll give ’em to you at some point,” the show did not feature any new songs. (A tour behind the new album was hinted at, however.) Instead, the Firefly show was mostly a greatest hits concert, with “Generator” from the 1999 album “There Is Nothing Left to Lose” the sole deep cut.
Included in the set list were “Rope,” “Learn to Fly,” “This Is A Call” and “The Pretender,” which saw guitarist Pat Smear throwing a few windmills, and the band detouring into an Eric Clapton-esque interlude that was reminiscent of “Lay Down Sally.” Grohl also dedicated "Monkey Wrench" to the Arctic Monkeys after calling them a "bad-ass" band.
Throughout the show, Grohl demonstrated his usual outsized showmanship. He screamed and sang with such force that it’s hard to imagine him performing that way on an extended tour. He stalked the stage in his black white-walled sneakers, ran through the audience and climbed the scaffolding near the sound board to perform a guitar solo and, after he descended, disappeared for an unusual length of time, apparently, to get a beer. He returned to the stage holding a Rolling Rock tall boy, which must have made the folks at Anheuser-Busch happy. His comfort level was such that during the band’s muscular performance of “Arlandria,” he belched loudly right before the song’s fifth verse, making the subsequent lyric, “I feel much better now,” sound like an ad lib. (It wasn’t.)
Among the show’s highlights was a performance of “My Hero” that had the crowd singing along and drummer Taylor Hawkins laying down one of several dazzling performances of the night. (Introducing him to the crowd, Grohl called him the “best drummer in the world,” to which Hawkins replied, “I would have to go with second best,” a reference to Grohl’s ferocious drumming for Nirvana.)
For a guy who is pure sinew — almost alarmingly so — Hawkins plays with the power and fervor of a muscle-bound maniac — albeit with a precision and flair that was mesmerizing to watch on the Jumbotron screens that flanked the stage. Hawkins bared his teeth and his eyes rolled back into his head on especially bone-breaking beats, and even his kit was fun to behold, the bass drum emblazoned with a photo of one of his idols, the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, and a young Michael Jackson.
The Foos also performed a chill version of “Big Me” after Grohl explained, in an extended anecdote, that the band had stopped playing it live because, thanks to the music video for the song, which satirized the moronic Mentos candy commercials of the mid-1990s, he was being pelted with the hefty mints at concerts, after ignoring Smear’s warning that “People are going to be throwing those fucking things at us every night.”
Providing a counterpoint to Grohl’s and Hawkins’ onstage energy was guitarist Chris Shiflett, who played the entire show seated on a chair due to a broken ankle, the cause of which, Grohl attributed to “being fucking old.”
Time seemed to be on the Foo Fighters frontman’s mind as he played his old stomping grounds. Near the end of the show, Grohl noted that it was “fucking crazy” that the band had been together “for nearly 20 years,” and the Foos’ encore underscored the band’s longevity. After the band left the stage, Hawkins and Grohl appeared on the big screens, depicted in military night-vision green.
During an extended pantomime, the drummer convinced his boss to play five more songs. When the band returned to the stage, the backdrop behind them read “The Holy Shits,” and Grohl announced that the Foos were going to perform as “a bar band that plays classic rock songs.” The band then ripped through four rock chestnuts — Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” the Rolling Stones “Miss You,” Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and endorphin-stoking version of the Queen-David Bowie classic “Under Pressure,” with Hawkins on vocals.
For the last song, the band played one of its own, “Everlong,” the second single from its second album, 1997’s “The Colour and the Shape.” It was both an acknowledgement and a refutation. After two decades and seven studio albums, the Foo Fighters qualified as a classic-rock band — but they still played with the heart, soul and energy of a hungry garage band besotted with the power of rock and roll.