Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Best of Foo: A Wrock 'n Wroll Delight at Wrigley, as Foo Fighters and The Struts Bounce Me Off the Walls -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Foo Fighters
w/ opening acts The Struts, Melkbelly
Wrigley Field, Chicago
July 29, 2018 (Foo also 7/30)

Foo Fighters are a fantastic live band, as they've been since I first saw them in 1996.

They invariably deliver a thunderous, generous and crowd-pleasing show, so I would assume that fans who have seen the current Concrete and Gold tour in, say, Casper, Wyoming or Hamburg, Germany or Perth, Australia, etc., were abundantly pleased--and that I would likewise be in any locale.

But there is something extra special about seeing them in Wrigley Field, due not just to what the old ballpark means to me--as the home of my beloved Chicago Cubs--but what the Wrigleyville neighborhood has meant to the Chief Foo Fighter, Dave Grohl.

Unlike that of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder--a Chicago-area native and lifelong Cubs fan who similarly moved to Seattle in the early '90s to find grunge superstardom--Grohl's connection has nothing to do with baseball.

As well-documented, including in Episode 1 of the Sonic Highways HBO series--which chronicled the band's ties to and/or influences from various cities--the first rock concert Grohl ever attended was at The Cubby Bear bar across from Wrigley.

While the Virginia native was staying with family in Evanston, IL in the summer of 1982, his cousin
Tracy--herself in a teenage band called Verboten--took him to see Chicago punk pioneers Naked Raygun.

In Grohl's own words, that night would forever change his musical direction.

"I want to do that," he recalled thinking.

After playing in a Washington, DC punk band called Scream, in 1990 Grohl would become the drummer for the already-existing Nirvana.

In October 1991, just a few weeks after the release of the world-changing Nevermind album, Nirvana played the Metro, just up Clark Street from Wrigley Field. That show is notable, as it was where Kurt Cobain's romance with Courtney Love supposedly began.

Foo Fighters' first two Chicago shows were at Metro--in May and October of 1995--and though I didn't attend those, I would see them four times in 1996-97, including at the Riviera and Aragon, about a mile away from Wrigleyville.

Even as their popularity well-outgrew the Metro, the Foos would return to play intimate shows at the storied club, and in 2014 they accompanied the premiere of Sonic Highways with a gig at The Cubby Bear.

In August 2015, Foo Fighters would play Wrigley Field for the first time, with Naked Raygun among the opening acts, along with Cheap Trick and Urge Overkill.

That sold out show was awesome, even though--due a broken leg from a stage mishap earlier that year--Grohl was forced to play sitting in a specially-made throne.

Now definitively one of the biggest rock bands in the world, Foo Fighters easily sold out two concerts at Wrigley Field this past Sunday and Monday.

I went on Sunday and pretty much loved everything about it.

As I was a huge fan of Nirvana--I saw them at the Aragon in 1993, six months before Kurt took his
life--I've paid attention to the Foo Fighters since they were little more than a rumor.

The self-titled 1995 debut album--which Grohl wrote and recorded by himself--remains my favorite of theirs.

I also relished the 1997 follow-up, The Colour and the Shape, but several Foo albums since have largely been hit or miss, with their latest, Concrete and Gold, mostly the latter.

So qualitatively, in terms of their recorded catalog, I consider Foo Fighters considerably lesser than Nirvana, and not quite on par with Pearl Jam, their superstar rock brethren who will also pack Wrigley twice this summer.

But led by the hyper-kinetic Grohl--out front as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist--Foo Fighters have long been one of my favorite live bands.

Sunday was my 14th time seeing them, and even from the upper deck at Wrigley, they sounded as good as ever.

Opening act The Struts
It was a truly "epic" show, in the way that word should be used, or at least, mammoth.

Including, to my pleasant surprise, even before the Foo Fighters took the stage. 

Unlike 2015, there wasn't a stack of opening acts well-known to me, and with The Breeders opening Monday but not Sunday, it would seen I got the short end of the stick.

But along with the Chicago outfit Melkbelly--who I only heard for a few minutes as they played before the 7:00pm ticketed showtime--a British quartet called The Struts "warmed up" the crowd.

As far as I can recall, I had never heard of the Struts until just last week noting their slot on Sunday's show. (They've been opening for Foo Fighters for months, but Sunday was the last time.)

But even with just a day or two of Spotifamiliarization, I really liked what I heard from The Struts, and their opening set only amplified this, substantially.

With hair and stagewear quite reminiscent of Queen's Freddie Mercury, and some moves like Jagger, lead singer Luke Spiller clearly wears his influences on his sleeve (perhaps literally, as Wikipedia notes he's had outfits made by Mercury's former costumer, Zandra Rhodes).

But while also reminding a bit of Stevie Wright from the Easybeats--it's possible only my pal Dave, alongside on Sunday, will get this reference, but that's OK--Spiller is armed with an energetic and amiable stage demeanor, a truly powerful voice and several delightful Struts songs.

With only one full album to their credit--Everybody Wants, from 2014 but not released stateside until 2016--plus a few singles as they prep a new release, the Struts remind not only of classic rock legends, but The Darkness, another retro band that had some success in the '00s.

I liked the Darkness' debut album, but they were ultimately too derivative, and I'm hoping the Struts will soon forge more of their own sound.

But with very few new rock bands exciting me these days, for the Struts to clearly win over fans down on the Wrigley outfield while having me tell Dave I also sensed a bit of a Faces groove along with T-Rex glam, at the very least they're quite damn fun.

It won't mean much for me to cite song titles, but I enjoyed everything they played (check out the setlist here).

There are many bands who shouldn't want to follow the kind of raucous and rollicking opening set delivered by the Struts, but from the first notes of "All My Life" it was clear the headliners were there to decimate any foo that needed fighting within the Friendly Confines. (BTW, fuck the asshole who assaulted a woman in a porta-potty at the show. I certainly hope he gets caught, convicted--if the facts hold--and incarcerated for quite some time.)

I had read some suggestions that all the years of screaming had taken their toll on Grohl's voice, but it sounded strong as the Foos rolled through "Learn to Fly," "The Pretender," "The Sky is a Neighborhood" and "Rope."

Nothing has ever clued me into Grohl being a noted baseball fan, so as he led into a singalong of "My Hero" by speaking of his Wrigleyville history, there was no need for him to don a Cubs jersey nor explicitly speak of Cobain or even Tom Petty, who I believe was one of his heroes (and who'd I'd seen rocking Wrigley just 13 months prior).

But as I belted into the beautiful night sky, I certainly thought of them.

Some musical heroes were more overtly worshiped during a band introduction segment, as bassist
Nate Mendel gave a taste of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," guitarist Pat Smear (something of a punk legend himself) led a blast through the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and keyboardist Rami Jaffee played John Lennon's "Imagine" as Grohl sang the lyrics of Van Halen's "Jump" over it. (I probably could have done without this mashup.)

Foo Fighters' drummer Taylor Hawkins--one of the best in the world but second best in his own band--came out front to sing Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure," accompanied by the Struts' Spiller as Grohl thundered on drums, ending with a tease of "Smells Like Teen Spirit"'s iconic opening drum salvo.

Then, with Hawkins happily sporting a Cheap Trick t-shirt, that band's Rick Nielsen showed up for a romp through "Ain't That a Shame," with Grohl still on drums.

I wouldn't have minded it being followed by "Surrender," but with an absolutely thunderous "Monkey Wrench" the Foos reminded that this was their show, and they do have some pretty damn great songs of their own.

You can see everything they played on Setlist.fm; I actually had to add "Ain't That a Shame" to the otherwise fully-posted setlist, which is funny only because I had said to Dave that many in the crowd might not have known that At Budokan tune. 

"Best of You" ended the main set before the encores--"Big Me," "Times Like These," "This is a Call" and "Everlong"--took the 160-minute performance right up to what I believe is an 11pm curfew for concerts at Wrigley.

The setlist wound up being pretty similar to what Foo Fighters have played at most recent tour stops, and even on Monday night.

I had a theater performance to go to then, but probably wouldn't have returned, in part because--unlike Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and some other favorites--Foo Fighters don't mix things up greatly from show-to-show.

But while I rue that "I'll Stick Around" off the debut album is no longer a staple, the band clearly still knows how to put together an amazing concert.

Like me, Dave Grohl is now almost 50.

Though some may always think of him first as Nirvana's drummer, for years he's been playing to  50,000+ people a night all around the world with the Foo Fighters.

I think the band needs some better new material, but that's true of nearly everyone I see.

And as long as he and the Foo Fighters keep coming around, I'll keep showing up.

This really was a perfect concert for a glorious summer night, all the more so because it was at Wrigley Field.

I wish I saw more teenagers and twenty-somethings in the crowd that roughly seemed twice that in terms of average age.

Ideally, bands like the Struts will resurrect rock 'n roll, but at least it continues to survive.

And on a night like this, there was truly nowhere else in the world I would rather have been.

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