Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Show of Force as the Fighting Foo Rock St. Lou -- Concert Review: Foo Fighters

Concert Review

Foo Fighters
w/ Rise Against, Mariachi El Bronx
September 17, 2011
Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO

When you take a 6-hour bus ride to attend a concert, you appreciate when the band you went to see plays for nearly 3 hours and is supported by a pair of solid opening acts.

But 16 years down the road from being hatched as Dave Grohl's post-Nirvana solo project--as celebrated in James Moll's fine recent documentary, Back And Forth--the Foo Fighters are one of the surest things in rock 'n roll.

Seeing them for the first time back in 1996 and several times since, I have never been disappointed by Grohl & Co. as they have consistently delivered ferocious, fan-friendly concerts. They are pretty much an automatic in terms of wanting to see them anytime they hit Chicago, and their new album, Wasting Light, is one of their best in years (my review here), even if it covers much of the same territory as their past 6 records.

Having appreciated how the band has grown in popularity over its surprisingly enduring career--who would've foreseen Grohl fighting Foo for more than 5 times longer than his Nirvana tenure?--it was cool to see them hook the Sunday night headlining slot at this year's Lollapalooza festival. However, my days of comfortably standing in a field for hours have long since passed--even without withstanding thunderstorms, as occurred during Foo's Lolla set--so I took a pass on Foo Fighters' only Chicago-area appearance (aside from a pre-Lolla set at Metro). Plus, Lollapalooza tickets were about $90 + fees for a single-day pass; opting instead to catch Foo Fighters' arena show in St. Louis, I spent less than that for the show and the Mega Bus to get there and back.

Mariachi El Bronx, an outfit that blends hard rock with mariachi music (while dressed in mariachi uniforms) opened they show. Although clearly quirky, it was soon apparent that the musicianship went beyond the gimmick, and the half-hour set was rather enjoyable. 

Then came Rise Against, a Chicago-based punk(ish) band, that has enjoyed a fair amount of success, but with whom I was largely unfamiliar. What I had heard before the show sounded fine, but well short of fantastic, and I would categorize their 45-minute set the same way. Another concertgoer who I had met on the Mega Bus had raved about Rise Against and the depth & social awareness of their lyrics, but especially in a hockey arena, the songs and any messages were largely indistinguishable to the uninitiated. Rise Against rocked hard and seemed earnest and appreciative, but this song was the only one I kind of knew. If there's something phenomenal about this band, I haven't caught onto it yet, but for a support act, they were sufficiently solid.

A little after 9:00pm, the Foo Fighters took the stage. And other than the encore break, they didn't leave it until 11:50pm.

As Dave Grohl said from the stage, "We're not one of these bands that plays for just 90 minutes."

I'm not sure why such proclamations need to be made, rather than simply proven, but for all his eternal alt-rock cred, Grohl does at times venture into arena rock parody. But as Foo Fighters' humorous videos would attest, Grohl doesn't take himself too seriously and his silly stage patter is much more amiable than irritating.

Plus, Grohl proved the power of a good laugh the day before in Kansas City (I wasn't there) when in the face of having the Foo Fighters' show there picketed by the nutjobs of Westboro Baptist Church, the band did this:

So, cheap tickets, long shows and a band that is clearly a force for good add up to rock 'n roll that is worth traveling for. Onstage, Foo Fighters delivered a fairly standard setlist--I wish they would mix things up a bit more and bring back "I'll Stick Around"--but what they lacked in spontaneity was made up for aplenty by good old fashioned firepower.

Old songs like "My Hero," "Learn to Fly," "Monkey Wrench" and show closer "Everlong" blended nicely with tracks from Wasting Light such as "Bridge Burning," "Rope," "Arlandria," "Walk" and "Dear Rosemary." Ironically, the quietest of the new cuts, "I Should've Known," in which Grohl is supposedly singing about Kurt Cobain, came off as the most powerful.

Which gets to the one weakness of the show, which is that although the Foo Fighters delivered their music about as well as I could have hoped, I couldn't avoid noting the relative lack of depth and diversity among their many fun-yet-facile songs. The Foo do what they do better than 99% of their peers, but two weeks after seeing Pearl Jam and in a year when I've also given @@@@@ to concerts by Paul McCartney, U2, Soundgarden, Arcade Fire and Roger McGuinn, the 1/2@ deduction is more substantial than it may seem and due not to onstage execution, but to the relative simplicity of the songwriting.

For all his myriad talents--one of rock's best drummers ever, a highly successful singer & guitarist, an extremely personable front man and a seemingly all-around good guy--Grohl could stand to dig quite a bit deeper as a composer and lyricist. But perhaps to get closer to Nirvana, he'd have to go to places in his psyche he'd rather not mine or reveal. Few things are as potent in rock 'n roll as a tortured soul, and while in most ways it's a good thing he seemingly doesn't have one, Dave Grohl's art is suffering for it.

So while this Foo Fighters show may well make my year-end list of favorite concerts of 2011, it won't be all that close to the top. But it will definitely go down as the best show I'll see in St. Louis. And as the impetus for a rock 'n roll road trip that included going to the top of the Gateway Arch and to the St. Louis Art Museum, it was well worth going "Back and Forth."

Here's to Foo; may you keep fighting the fight.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Can you say where your seats were for this concert? What section? They look really great!