It is a rare, delightful privilege to know when you are making history. Dave Grohl knew it as he strode onto the Madison Square Garden stage on Sunday night (June 20) and lifted his arms, summoning a nearly deafening roar from the full-capacity, fully vaccinated crowd, the first one to gather here since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
He knew it as he uttered the opening lyrics to “Times Like These,” whose chorus — “It’s times like these you learn to live again … It’s time like these you learn to love again” — became a balm in the wake of the past year. And he knew it as he stepped back from the microphone and appeared to fight back tears, before soldiering through the song with the rest of Foo Fighters.
The audience was patient, spurring Grohl on with their applause. They knew they were making history, too.
Not that it was a secret: Madison Square Garden was plastered inside and out with signs declaring, “Rock & Roll Returns to the Garden.” They loomed above protesters who stood outside the venue with signs of their own, accusing the Foos of committing crimes against humanity for daring to require concertgoers to present proof of vaccination to attend the show. But these naysayers were just a footnote on the epic, soul-cleansing, two-hour-and-45-minute rock show that shook the most famous arena in the world to its foundation.
And really, what better act to usher in the return of live music than the Foo Fighters? There was Grohl, rock n’ roll’s proverbial cool dad, a head-banging, guitar-slinging shaman sprinting across the stage and screaming his lungs out. He led the Foos — who will belatedly celebrate their 25th anniversary on the road this summer — through a career-spanning set comprising hits, deep cuts and tracks off their most recent album, Medicine at Midnight.
There were no “bathroom songs” on Sunday night. The crowd screamed in ecstasy at the start of every tune as if it were the first of the night, and the band stampeded through each one as if it were an encore. Grohl soaked up the energy of the audience, his voice growing stronger and his head-banging growing wilder as the evening progressed. He ran to the sides of the stage at every opportunity, seemingly regarding his microphone stand only as a necessary evil that kept him tethered to the stage, lest he jump into the crowd and get swallowed up in an instant.
“God dammit, this feels good,” the 52-year-old frontman said during one of the few breaks in the rock n’ roll onslaught. “I really missed the attention. That’s what it is.”
The fans obviously missed lavishing the attention as well. They lit up the Garden with their smartphones during hits like “Learn to Fly,” “My Hero,” “Monkey Wrench” and “Best of You.” One fan presented the band with a giant cardboard cutout of Pat Smear’s head, a first for the mild-mannered guitarist. And they gleefully coughed up $16 a pop for those premium draft beers, which they promptly sloshed all over the floor and each other as they waded back to their seats. Some things never change.
In fact, general euphoria aside, one of the most remarkable things about Sunday’s show was how natural it all felt. Grohl remarked on the enormity of the occasion (“It’s not too often that you get to say, ‘We were the band that got to f–kin’ reopen Madison Square Garden!'”), and yet, in spite of the past year, it somehow made perfect sense that he would be leading 20,000 people in sing-alongs of some of the most enduring rock anthems of the last quarter-century. It made sense that Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins switched places for an electrifying rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and that the band unveiled its disco alter ego, the Dee Gees, for an encore cover of the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing.”
It somehow even made sense that Dave Chappelle ambled onstage at one point to lead the band in a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” (Okay, that last part was a lie. That made no sense at all. Even Grohl seemed confused afterward. But it was still awesome.)
Foo Fighters’ Madison Square Garden show was by default a moment of salvation for a city ravaged by the pandemic. Hopefully, it was also a harbinger of live music experiences to come. For nearly three hours, the Foo Fighters turned Madison Square Garden into a safe space for fans and friends, both old and new. They basked in the glow of a rapturous audience, whom they rewarded with a white-knuckle rock show, and they threw the gauntlet down for the myriad other bands hitting the road this summer.
But don’t just take my word for it. Ask Dan Petronella, a self-described “huge fan” who’s seen the Foo Fighters several times since 2011, when he drove from New Jersey to Toronto to catch them on the Wasting Light Tour. How did the Garden stack up to Petronella’s previous shows? “This one was incredible,” he said. “They really were on point. They knew their shit. Dave sounded incredible. He’s really been prepping his voice for this. Sometimes it sounds a little rough. This one was just exactly like the album.”
Petronella went to the show with his friend, Pat Shumaker, a Foo Fighters first-timer who was similarly dazzled and thrilled to be seeing live music again. “For me, it was just pure adrenaline and joy,” Shumaker said. “The whole past year, it’s just worrying about being close to this person, that person, just constant fear. And all that kind of dropped away. We were just rocking out with the band.”
“Times Like These”
“Learn to Fly”
“No Son of Mine”
“The Sky Is a Neighborhood”
“Medicine at Midnight”
“Somebody to Love” (Queen cover w/ Taylor Hawkins on vocals, Dave Grohl on drums)
“Creep (Radiohead cover w/ Dave Chappelle on vocals)
“All My Life”
“This Is a Call”
“Best of You”
“Making a Fire”
“You Should Be Dancing” (Bee Gees cover as alter ego, the Dee Gees)