Monday, August 31, 2015

Sonic (Highways) Blast: With Local Influences in Tow, Foo Fighters Fervently Rock Wrigley -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Foo Fighters
w/ opening acts Cheap Trick,
Naked Raygun and Urge Overkill
Wrigley Field, Chicago
August 29, 2015
(for Foo Fighters and full show)

With one of my favorite bands of all-time playing for 2-1/2 hours in my favorite place on Earth, preceded by a classic band I like even more and two other storied local acts, a @@@@@ concert review seems almost automatic.

And even with hyperkinetic Foo king Dave Grohl relegated to sitting on a throne of his own design (see pictures below) after breaking his right leg falling off a stage earlier this summer, the Foo Fighters successfully translated the combination of fun, power and ferocity that has long made them one of my favorite live acts--I first saw them at the Riv in 1997 and now 12 times since--to a completely full Wrigley Field, which Grohl noted as the first stadium they sold out in America.

Having launched their Sonic Highways HBO series--the name doubling as the title of the band's latest album--last October with an intimate gig at the Cubby Bear bar across the street, forever cherished by Grohl as the place where he saw his first rock concert, at age 13, with his Evanston-based cousin Tracy and by nascent Chicago punk rockers Naked Raygun, the Wrigley show was clearly a special one for the Foos.

And me.

I didn't particularly rue not getting to go to the Cubby Bear show, but the concert at Wrigley Field--home of my beloved Cubs and, over the past decade or so, my favorite live music venue--sold out nearly as fast and tickets remained rather exorbitant on the secondary (e.g. StubHub) market.

So I was thrilled to be able to score a single, face value, really good upper deck seat when a small allotment of extra tickets were put onsale just a few weeks ago.

Keeping with Sonic Highways' theme of spotlighting bands that inspired Grohl & co. in 8 cities across America, the outdoor extravaganza featured three opening acts with deep Chicago ties: Urge Overkill, Grohl's treasured Naked Raygun and Cheap Trick, who technically hail from Rockford.

Taking advantage of an atypically unmobbed souvenir stand in the upper deck to buy an exclusive Foo Fighters & Guests @ Wrigley Field t-shirt--for $15 less that the standard concert t-shirt rate, yet another reason to love Dave Grohl--I took my seat just as Urge Overkill took the stage at 5:30pm, with a light rain throughout the night never more than a minor nuisance.

Launching into "Positive Bleeding" from their great 1993 album, Saturation, UO played a brief but terrific set with original members and co-vocalists Nash Kato and Eddie Roeser sounding swell years after splintering and more recently reuniting.

Even with a 2011 album, I hadn't noticed Urge since their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" was featured in Pulp Fiction, so it was great to hear that one and two other Saturation gems ("Back On Me," "Sister Havana") among their seven song selection.

Next up was Naked Raygun, a band I've long heard of thanks to their great name and Grohl's reminisces perhaps going back to his days as the drummer in Nirvana, but whose material I've never really known. Had I, I may have been effusively rocking out at the front of the upper deck like a nearby fan, but as it was I appreciated what I heard, even without a direct connection or being able to name the songs (though you can see the setlist here)

Although I would consider myself a rather serious, longstanding Cheap Trick fan--Cheap Trick at Budokan being the first record I ever bought, in 1979--they prompted "WTF?!" marvel (in both a confused and admiring way) by beginning their highest profile Chicago set in ages with 3 songs I didn't recognize, one I barely did ("Stiff Competition") and a Velvet Underground cover ("I'm Waiting for the Man") that was sung by bassist Tom Petersson.

Lead vocalist Robin Zander resumed his duties as he, guitarist Rick Nielsen, Petersson and Nielsen's son Dax--now playing drums in place of Bun E. Carlos--placated the crowd, or at least me, with stellar runs through "I Want You to Want Me," "Dream Police" and "Surrender," followed by the lengthy "Gonna Raise Hell," during which Zander dared to tred down the Foos' catwalk.

All of this made for a rather tasty appetizer before the main course, and a comfortable seat allowed me to savor the sonic blasts much more than I would have in a festival setting.

With the stage still shrouded by a FF curtain, Grohl's delirious screams foretold a wild night as the Foo Fighters began their set with "Everlong," a tune long used to close concerts (and, recently, David Letterman's late-night run). From the same 1997 album came another favorite, "Monkey Wrench," followed by a third pre-2000 gem, "Learn to Fly."

It was a rather tremendous way to open a concert, with the flip side being that little of the subsequent material outshone the opening salvo, even with abundant highlights.

As on the Sonic Highways album and TV episode, Rick Nielsen accompanied the band on "Something From Nothing," the best cut from a so-so record that lent just two other tracks to the setlist. (See the Foo Fighters' full Wrigley Field Chicago setlist on

Four songs from 2011's Wasting Light--most demonstrably "Walk" and "Arlandria"--revealed that to be a much stronger effort than the current album, and while Grohl has penned a good sprinkling of 21st century songs (such as "The Pretender," "Times Like These," "All My Life" and "Best of You") that enable the Foo Fighters to remain one of the few contemporary bands capable of rocking a stadium in 2015, the band's relative lack of songwriting progression or variance was reiterated.

I said much the same thing last time I saw & reviewed the Foos (in 2011), suggesting that "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."

Thus, while it was a wonderful evening and in most aspects a terrific headlining performance, for me it didn't match the emotional resonance I've felt in seeing U2, Pearl Jam and Arcade Fire over the past year, or Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam in the same revered (and friendly) confines.

But that's rather heady comparison, so giving the show @@@@@ isn't overdoing it even with some shortcomings revealed or rehashed.

And though the Foos' catalog hasn't become considerably more hallowed since their days playing the Metro, Riviera and Aragon, it was undoubtedly an emotional and nostalgic night for Grohl.

Noting early on that "if it wasn't for your fucking city I wouldn't be here right now," Grohl later brought not only his cousin Tracy to their stage, but his mom Virginia (which also happens to be his home state) as it was both their birthdays--and the adoring crowd properly serenaded.

Though only drummer Taylor Hawkins complements Grohl as a focal point (especially from the top of a baseball stadium), the fondness the singer/guitarist has for those who have long fought Foo with him--bassist Nate Mendel, guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, keyboardist Rami Jaffe and Hawkins--was readily apparent. While a bit hackneyed, it was fun to hear snippets of multiple Van Halen songs, Yes' "Roundabout" and Alice Cooper's "School's Out" during the band introductions.

It seemed a bit askew when, at about the show's 2-hour mark, the loquacious Grohl received the crowd's fervent blessing to ditch the "stadium rock show" for "keg party" vamping, only to abruptly revert to the former after a run through the Rolling Stones' "Miss You."

I also thought Grohl missed the perfect chance to jam with several members of the opening acts or even welcome other Chicago legends like Buddy Guy or Steve Albini, who both were featured in Sonic Highways. (Albini produced Nirvana's In Utero, was in Big Black with Naked Raygun members and recorded "Something From Nothing" in his Chicago studio.)

And while I was glad to hear "This Is a Call," the first song on the Foo Fighters' 1995 debut--derived from demos Grohl had recorded during downtime with Nirvana--I wish it was followed as on the album by "I'll Stick Around," long missing from setlists despite being one the band's best songs.

Regardless, I appreciated Dave Grohl graciously thanking those who have stuck around in supporting the Foo Fighters over a rather remarkable 20 years--he also mentioned Nirvana having played the nearby Metro and, as attended by yours truly, the Aragon--and I couldn't help but be a bit verclempt myself when he got choked up in introducing show-closer, "Best of You."

Though Grohl has rarely traipsed in the political and social onstage commentary espoused by his contemporary Eddie Vedder--preferring to champion the power of rock 'n roll itself--there was a clearly identifiable subtext to his explanation about why he didn't let a broken leg abort the current tour:

"I actually like my job."

And I actually loved the job Grohl and his band did on Saturday night in the old ballpark.

I would prefer for them to write some killer new songs, perhaps with a deeper sense of distinction and self, but I nonetheless look forward to seeing how good the Foo Fighters can be yet again.

Especially when Dave is back on his feet.

To paraphrase the next band I'll see at Wrigley Field, "For those about to rock--intensely, despite injury--we salute Foo."

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