The Foo Fighters – when rock brings people together

When Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters, proclaimed in front of at least 17 thousand fans “we don’t play those fucking two hour shows your favorite band plays… let’s try and get it to three tonight”, he meant it. These were the first words he uttered after a 4-songs-long welcome to the audience, setting the mood for the night, if some concertgoers’ spirits had not been already elevated by the two opening acts by Mariachi El Bronx and Cage The Elephant.

However, the first Los Angeles show night of their Wasting Light 2011 tour – October the 13th at the historical venue of The Forum – started much earlier. One could argue that Dave Grohl was the sole protagonist of the night: his performance alone was easily mind-blowing.

But, to be honest, what is a rock band without their crowd of aficionados?

People had been queuing since around 4 p.m., a good three hours before the gates even opened. Observing it from outside, the line was constituted of a bizarre ensemble of mostly families of 4-5 people, children in their best rock attire included, middle-aged ladies and gentleman, and youths in their 20s. Interestingly, only a few teenagers were going to attend the event – understandably, knowing that the Foo Fighters have been most productive in the late ’90s and early ’00s: older folks have probably been listening to them since they were also teenagers.

I was probably expecting to see a more conspicuous presence of men due to the genre preconceptions related to alternative rock music: being loud and clear is not a “ladies’ thing” in traditional American society. In spite of popular belief, women were very present, if not even in slight majority. The themes and attitude of the Foo Fighters surely play a role in this integration. Their sometimes mellow, nostalgic lyrics are effortlessly ambiguous in crossing gender expectations that might be associated with rock music; they talk of loss, homesickness, powerlessness, frustration and subsequent anger: without a doubt they render a spectrum of feelings that are not usually linked with masculinity. But the bottom line of the concert – and of the spirit of the band in general – could be described by a simple but powerful message: we don’t care because we can laugh at ourselves. This particular side to the Foo Fighters’ collective personality is interesting because of its playfulness; not taking oneself seriously can in this case externalize a great deal of confidence: how could that possibly make you less of a rockstar, or less of a man? Even after tripping and falling twice in a row, Grohl stood back up and just concluded that it must have been the emotion of being back in the band’s hometown that got to his feet: all of this while sipping on a beer and strumming on the guitar with his free hand. Certainly something that should not be tried at home by anybody.

To give one-man-show Dave a rest and let other members of the band have their share of the spotlights, the frontman introduced the other members of the band: Nate Mendel on the bass, Taylor Hawkins on the drums, Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett on the second guitars and touring player Rami Jaffe at the keyboards. Something that struck me about this presentation was the unmasked affection the performers were expressing to each other, recalling anecdotes about their first time at The Forum and the emotion they felt back then. It was a moment of familiar intimacy, for how intimate a stadium full of people can be; Dave was wandering around the stage, bolting on a ramp set right in the middle of the audience: “I can see every one of you” said Grohl “I used to freak out, but not anymore – you’re Foo Fighters people, it’s all good. If I wasn’t standing here, I’d be standing right fucking there.” This infringement of the performer/audience barrier is very telling of the Foo Fighters’ shared set of values; there was also very little discrimination in the shout-outs Dave Grohl gave to the audience: only some references that made the generational gap in the audience palpable – but apart from that, the messages were clearly delivered to a “unisex” mass. This point was consistently addressed throughout the 3-hour-long concert: “We are here to celebrate!”, “We are here to play some music!”, “We love you all!”.

No point in saying that they did play – a lot of – amazing live music. The lead singer never failed to deliver classics, like “My Hero”, and newer hits like “The Pretender” and “Walk”, with spectacular energy, beating the level set by Cage The Elephant: proof that being young and recklessly loud sometimes does not help getting your point across. He left the microphone only to let Taylor, the drummer, sing a piece he wrote: “Cold Day In The Sun”. Being drumming as heavy on the physical side as music can get, Taylor was already exhausted when he started vocalizing; that’s when Dave climbed over the platform where the drum set and Taylor were, and started backing up his singing, with both of them being so close to the microphone that they almost kissed. They were obviously fairly amused by it: it was almost reminiscent of an ’80s David Bowie’s move on Mick Ronson, in a softer key. Knowing about the profound friendship between the two, nobody in the audience seemed to mind this slightly homoerotic incident, not even the group of middle-aged men sitting beside me: they just chuckled and focused back on the performance just one moment later.

This episode, to me, emblemized the whole concert: it was a 3-hour long parenthesis of sheer enthusiasm and joy from the band’s side, and an enjoyable catharsis for the audience. You definitely cannot shout lines like “What if I say I’m not like the others?” on a daily basis, but doing it in The Forum, together with people of every color and age was a powerful thing.

– Jo Bettoli, class of 2015

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