With the Struts and the Beaches. Rogers Centre, Thursday, July 12.
It comes as no surprise, really, that the Foo Fighters have attained genuine “stadium band” status on their current Concrete and Gold tour since Dave Grohl and Co. have been unapologetically churning out sky-high anthems with the cheap seats in mind for a good 20 years now.
Still, one couldn’t help but marvel at the sight of the Rogers Centre stacked to the rafters with something like 50,000 rabid fans for the Foos’ latest Toronto touchdown on Thursday night. It made complete sense in the overall context of the band’s career trajectory — and in actual context because, make no mistake, this was a right whopper of a gig — and yet, every so often, you’d take a look around the ballpark and drink in the sheer multitude of people utterly losin’ it all the way up to the back of those cheap seats, and wonder “how did this happen?”
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How, exactly, did the Foo Fighters wind up becoming a concert draw fit to rub shoulders with Bruce Springsteen or U2 or the Rolling Stones?
Being a killer live band helps, of course. Thursday’s performance featured a bit too much dicking around, padding it out to close to the three-hour mark, and it needn’t have blown past the Rogers Centre’s typical 11 p.m. curfew to give the people their money’s worth, but it was an admirably casual and effortless exercise in rising to the occasion. Stadium? No problem.
“This is a f–kin’ big show, man,” frontman/guitarist/charmer Grohl remarked at one point from a proscenium extending halfway across the floor, stating the obvious.
There was no indication, however, that he or the rest of the band were at all daunted by the king-sized scope of the gig. Phoning it in is not the Foo Fighters’ style, which is no doubt why we all keep going back to the shows despite the fact that the band’s recorded output has remained stubbornly spotty over the years since Grohl first came out of the gates hard, post-Nirvana, with the promising one-two punch of 1995’s self-recorded Foo Fighters debut and 1997’s impeccable, arena-eyeing The Colour and the Shape.
That output really has been spotty. Even the singles, bearable though they tend to be, betrayed a Nickelback-worthy degree of formula — quiet/loud/quiet/louder/breakdown/quiet/louder yet — when absorbed in a straight line from opener “All My Life” to “Learn to Fly” to “The Pretender” to “Rope” to “These Days” on Thursday evening, despite the Foos’ best efforts to obfuscate their generic nature with extended blues jams and Taylor Hawkins drum solos at every opportunity. The Colour and the Shape’s “My Hero,” mercifully, remains an ageless monster and gave the first act a proper, riotous lift at just the right moment towards the halfway mark, although interestingly enough, the other real eye-opener early in the evening was “The Sky is a Neighbourhood,” a snaky/psychy new jam (featuring a quartet of backing vocalists that included one of Grohl’s daughters) from last year’s Concrete and Gold album that briefly shook the set list out of its Boston-meets-Journey-meets-Cheap-Trick doldrums.
Even more interestingly, it was another Concrete and Gold tune, “Run,” that put the second half of the show properly over the top. And, oh, did it need a jolt after a 45-minute mid-set digression into band introductions and completely unnecessary cover tunes. Guitarist Chris Shiflett did Alice Cooper’s “Under My Wheels,” guitarist Pat Smear led the room in a shout-along to the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” keyboardist Rami Jaffee presided over a mash-up of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Van Halen’s “Jump” that wasn’t quite as awful as you might expect, and Hawkins and Luke Spiller from openers the Struts did the David Bowie/Freddie Mercury thing on a competent run at “Under Pressure,” while bassist Nate Mendel politely elected not to waste anyone’s time with more than a few bars of “Another One Bites the Dust.” Democratic? Yes. Boring? Fully.
Back to the good, though. A blistering “Monkey Wrench” finally put a stop to all that nonsense, and then — real, no foolin’ — the hands-down best moment of the night went to “Run.” An actual new Foo Fighters tune won the night. A new Foo Fighters tune wherein Grohl didn’t bother with the radio bait and simply let his buried hardcore and metal passions run rampant in a manner that made all of us who still cherish his time in Queens of the Stone Age proud. Hear that? That’s the sound of hope for the future.
Not that the present is all that bad. The Foos blew it again, mind you, by following up the old-school ripper “Breakout” with Concrete and Gold’s shoegaze-y “Dirty Water” — not a bad tune and I get that Grohl wanted his daughter to sing again but he’s a pro and he should know that was the absolute wrong place in the set to plant that song — but “This Is A Call” and “Best of You” and “Big Me” and “Times Like These” followed close behind and all was pretty much forgiven. Tunes are tunes.
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The Foo Fighters might be held as perpetual artistic underachievers and, as Pitchfork sagely put it last year, just the “World’s Most Okay Rock Band.” But it’s still pretty amazing to see a bunch of old punk rockers culled from such purist outfits as Nirvana, Scream, the Germs, No Use for a Name and Sunny Day Real Estate — along with the guy who drummed on Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” — playing a stadium show. That’s gotta be worth something.
And any band that can trick a bunch of elbow-throwin’ bros in backwards ballcaps into losin’ it over a straight-up My Bloody Valentine rip like “Everlong” as an encore is always gonna be okay in my books.