To stand inside a Foo Fighters show — amid the lights and lasers, smoke machines and drummers rising nearly to the rafters — is to understand how the band has endured, however improbably, for nearly 25 years.
The reason is simple: Frontman Dave Grohl and his bandmates show up and do the work.
The grind of a nearly three-hour gig — from weaving in the bits of expected fan service to bantering with the audience to sustaining high-intensity rock music that grabs you by the shirt and refuses to let go — must take its toll in some way, but gazing upon Grohl and his musical collaborators, you’d never know it. It was evident from the moment the black-clad Grohl raced onto the stage — promptly at 8:15 p.m., the last traces of a passing rainstorm dissipating from overhead the newly christened Dos Equis Pavilion (formerly Starplex) — that taking it easy was the last thing this band was going to do.
“Are you ready?” Grohl screamed at the sold-out crowd from beneath a wild, lengthy black mane of hair. “Are you fucking ready?”
The audience, made up of young and old, male and female, responded with a sound that evoked standing inside a jet engine. With that, the band’s first Dallas tour stop in more than a decade, supporting its latest LP, last year’s Concrete and Gold, got underway.
Beginning with an energy most rock bands might be content to display at a concert’s conclusion, Foo Fighters tore into the setlist, reeling off a series of blistering tracks — “Run,” “All My Life,” “Learn to Fly,” “The Pretender,” “The Sky is a Neighborhood” and “Rope” — that threatened to level Fair Park.
“It’s gonna be a long fucking night!” Grohl crowed as “All My Life” crashed to a close.
Amid this breakneck beginning, I found myself considering the unlikely journey from a post-Nirvana solo lark to the arena-dominating powerhouse Foo Fighters have become — the trajectory is downright head-spinning.
Six months after Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide, Grohl stole away to a studio, playing all the instruments himself, creating what became the Foo Fighters’ self-titled LP, released in 1995. Full of sparkling art-pop tunes like “Big Me” and “This is a Call,” Grohl’s self-described “fucking around” caught on and catapulted him from the drummer’s stool to center stage. What began as catharsis became a colossus — Grohl soon had to adjust to being the focal point of a band that has sold many millions of albums, won a dozen Grammys and assumed a position as one of the last rock bands standing in an industry undergoing a slow, steady implosion.
Grohl, who was joined on stage by guitarist Chris Shiflett, pianist Rami Jaffee, drummer Taylor Hawkins (resplendent in a Denton-branded tank top and Van Halen-adorned shorts), bassist Nate Mendel and guitarist Pat Smear, wears the weight of such rock god responsibilities quite lightly. Just watch him step away from the mic, casually puffing a cigarette or swilling from a plastic cup back by the drum riser, or breezily chewing gum as he sings throat-tearing melodies, snarling hard enough to make the veins on his neck pop — these aren’t the actions of a stressed-out rock star, but rather a man content in his labors, happy to be where he is.
That joy was made manifest from first note to last as Foo Fighters, occasionally joined by a trio of female back-up singers, made damn sure those in attendance, from the front of the pit to the farthest reaches of the dampened lawn, got their money’s worth.
The stage was fairly spartan by modern standards — a diamond-shaped video screen in front of a video wall was the dominant visual, apart from an interlude during “Sunday Rain,” when Hawkins’ drum riser was lifted several feet into the air, in shades of '70s and '80s rock 'n' roll excess. The simply dressed setting was augmented with lights, lasers and smoke, but as arena spectacles go, it was fairly tame.
The main attraction was Grohl, who ceaselessly roamed the stage, tossing out one-liners with the practiced ease of a stand-up comic. After asking how many in the audience were seeing Foo Fighters for the first time, he cracked, “We’ve been a band for a quarter-century, and you couldn’t make it to one fuckin’ show?”
Grohl also gave his bandmates room to shine, whether it was Shiflett crooning Alice Cooper’s “Under My Wheels” (dedicated to the late Dimebag Darrell) or Hawkins belting “Under Pressure” with an assist from the Struts’ Luke Spiller.
Where Foo Fighters most excelled — and underscored the value of these epically lengthy performances — was in the building of tension and its ecstatic release, again and again. Several songs, such as “The Pretender,” “My Hero” and “Best of You,” were elongated, extended into frenetic jams with no particular destination in mind beyond the sight of guitarist and drummer locked in a momentary duel. The fury unleashed upon the drum kit or fretboard elicited ecstatic screams, beers and cellphones hoisted in the air.
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That almost tangible high — the feeling of being lifted up by six men attacking their respective instruments with everything they had, sweating and swearing and smiling — bordered on life-affirming.
No one would have begrudged the band showing up and banging out a tight, 90-minute set stacked with hits — it's more than earned the right to do so. Fortunately for everyone gathered at Dos Equis Pavilion on Saturday who witnessed this astonishing, euphoric marathon of a concert, it was all or nothing for the Foo Fighters — anything less would have been a betrayal of everything that got the band where it is.