Brand new architectural spaces, no matter how jaw-dropping, don’t yet have a soul. So those who’ve been documenting the rise of D.C.’s new music cathedral, The Anthem, with its concrete floors, posh balcony seating and backlit steel curtains, have had a different experience from those who helped christen it at last night’s Foo Fighters show.
And from the contest winners and Foo fan clubbers who lucked into attending the iHeartRadio Foo FAnthem Show Wednesday night (October 11), when local hero Dave Grohl and his band did a “soft” opening, in part broadcast live by iHeartMedia to more than 70 stations. In the typical chill-but-not-chill fashion of I.M.P.’s Seth Hurwitz, purveyor of the Anthem and the 9:30 Club among other local treasures, the Anthem also warmed up earlier in the week with two abbreviated shows featuring local acts.
“The way I know it was a success is the audience had that special sort of vibe and connection. It’s what the audience and acts have at The 9:30 and it happened last night, I could see it,” a beaming Hurwitz told Billboard between Foos shows. “We did it. We created a space where people are happy and feel comfortable. And where they can share a connection with the band, because that’s what the bands live for. It’s a two-way relationship.”
That relationship status notched up immediately with the first of Grohl’s signature primal screams. The Foo Fighters got right to the business of breaking in the place and demonstrating that despite the cavernous ceilings, the Anthem sound is loud. And clear. Ever the consummate professional, Grohl didn’t let the first “fuck” fly from his mouth until the band was two minutes clear of the one-hour live broadcast. They then abandoned plans to wrap, and jammed for another hour. Because these guys simply don’t know how to phone it in.
“We’re always looking for that special thing, the experiences music fans can’t buy, and this was definitely one of them,” says Brad Hardin, iHeartMedia EVP/GM, and alternative and rock brand manager.
The Anthem’s grand opening also served as launch for the Foo Fighters’ tour in support of their new album Concrete and Gold. (In this latest chapter in the storied friendship of Grohl and Hurwitz, never has an album title jibed better with the venue in which it debuted live.) Thursday’s sold-out-in-a-minute show featured a warm-up by Trouble Funk—Grohl loves his local go-go—and solid openers the Struts, who elevated the showmanship and the anticipation.
By the time the Foos hit the stage, the room was filled to its 6,000-person capacity and though not cozy, no longer seemed as massive. The steel balconies seemed to sway with the movement of bodies; beer puddled on the floor near the stage where fans were packed tight.
Their two-and-a-half-hour set delivered all the goods—every hit, and a smattering of tunes from the new album—and left zero doubt these guys are more than ready to hit the road. Drummer Taylor Hawkins, in particular, was on fire last night. Most anthemic (no pun intended) of the new tunes was “The Sky Is a Neighborhood.” “Dirty Water” was a showcase in the kind of melody-making the band is up to these days, and for which it’s bringing backup singers on tour for the first time. “Run” is vintage Foos. Both nights closed triumphantly with “Best of You” and “Everlong.”
Grohl was clearly basking in being back in D.C., riffing with the audience about what time the metro stops running and his idyllic childhood in Springfield, Va. And he sent loads of love to Hurwitz, who took in both shows from his balcony, perched immediately left of the stage and appointed with a black-and white geometric wall mural that nods to some of the city’s architecture.
On Wednesday night, Grohl thanked his longtime friend for constructing The Anthem. “Even if we weren’t playing tomorrow night to officially open this place, I would have been here anyway. Because this is one of the best places we’ve ever played at in our entire lives,” he said. “Congratulations, Washington, D.C. You now have the baddest-ass venue in the United States of America.”
Last night he invited Hurwitz down to take a seat at Hawkins’ immense drum kit. “Whenever we do a show in D.C. there’s always one fucking dude who says, ‘Can I play with you?’ And you can’t say no because he owns the fucking club!” Grohl jested. Hurwitz happily obliged, and made a pretty legit go of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers classic “Bitch,” before sharing a hug with Grohl — just two bros who love rock music, and love D.C.
So in this city of monuments, is Hurwitz worried about The Anthem’s stature when it’s not quite so pristine?
“It’s never going to be new again, and I’d go crazy trying to keep things perfectly polished,” he tells Billboard. “This isn’t a hotel lobby. The wow factor is there because we built it that way. It just feels exciting when you’re walking in, and that has nothing to do with the floors being shiny.”