On the Road with Foo Fighters
Rewind a few weeks to a piss-wet night in the windy city. After the comparative luxury of the bus, we're now stood outside
of a Chicago club called Metro watching some horror theater play out in front of us. A strange, loud little
woman in a John Deere tractor trucker cap and with that unmistakable 'I'm a fucking nutter, me' look in her eyes is screaming at the harassed student on the door. "EXCUSE ME SIR, BUT IS JACK BLACK ON THE GUESTLIST FOR THIS EVENING'S SHOW?"
The Metro - a venue too damn small for the. Foo Fighters is already bulging at the corners, with a massive queue still snaking around the block outside. Half of Chicago it seems, is on the guest list, and the poor harassed student guy really doesn't need some psycho-dwarf woman screaming at him right now. Nor, for that matter, does he need some weirdos all the way from London, who look like they might be crack dealers, or Irish terrorists, and whose accents " he just doesn't understand: Still, we're trying to keep it reasonable, not to raise our Voices, to speak clearly and with authority. "We're on the guest list." "No, we really are." "And we need a photo pass." We seem to be winning. Student guy looks at the list again after we have literally spelled out our names and shown him our passports as ID, and miraculously manages to find our names. There's no photo pass, but he seems convinced. His fingers hover, about to pluck one out, when: "I WOULD LIKE TO GET A MESSAGE TO JACK BLACK IF HE IS HERE TONIGHT. PLEASE SIR CAN YOU TELL ME IF HE IS ON THE GUEST LIST?"
No photo pass. We try explaining that the sinister midget is fuck all to do with us, but to no avail. Hell, we're lucky he's letting us in. He nods to the bouncer and points at me. "Sir, please step this way, we need to do a body search." Cheers, nutter...
The Metro gig is an unofficial warm-up show for the rest of the Foo Fighters' US dates, a chance for a few lucky punters who have won tickets through a local radio station to get up close to the band. And despite the Foo Fighters being every bit the stadium draw that his previous band Nirvana were, Grohl stilI relishes being able to see the whites of their eyes out front. It's also the first chance a lot of this American audience have had to hear the new material from One By One live. The Foos oblige, starting with the album opener 'All My Life', and the record's obvious hit singles 'Times Like These' and 'Low' nestle seamlessly with longtime favourites like 'Learn To Fly' and 'Monkey Wrench'.
The Foo Fighters have become everyone's favourite alt-rock band by stealth, by simply outlasting the opposition. Other contenders like The Smashing Pumpkins, Hole and Alice In Chains have imploded or, in the case of Pearl Jam, forgotten how to string a decent tune together. It's as if everyone suddenly came to the same conclusion: hey, y'know what? The Foo Fighters are my favourite band! It's some turnaround from when Grohl released his first post-Nirvana album - Foo Fighters' eponymous debut. There was a lot of sneering about'the new Ringo album' and tasteless cash-ins with Kurt barely cold in his urn, but those who weren't silenced by the blistering three minutes of 'This Is A Call' must feel pretty foolish now.
It's maybe a mark of the Foo Fighters' current popularity in
America that they now attract street psychos - even if they do just pop down to the gig looking for Grohl's friend and sometime collaborator Jack Black. Earlier that day, in the bar of the House of Blues hotel, a constant stream of well-wishers, fans, folks who merely recognise Grohl come over to shake hands, get autographs and pose for pictures. It's as if they think they already know Grohl personally, and the thing is, I know exactly how they feel: upon meeting the man, it's as if you've known him for years, but also you have some catching up to do. He has that knack of making complete strangers feel as though they are important to him, not some annoyance to be tolerated. When you've been around bands for a while, you realise that that's actually a rare thing for a guy in his position. When most 'talents' enjoy even a modicum of success
they develop a sort of ego-cancer that causes them to assume an importance on a par with an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh. But Grohl is a man of the people, the way Joe Strummer and Phil Lynott were men of the people.
The way that poor Kurt was before a combination of insane fan hysteria and his wife made him behave like a proper rock star and buy a Lexus (he would return it a few days later, though).
Nice-guy Dave isn't an act, although Grohl is the first to admit that it can be a bit wearing when you're a friend to the whole world. He's not one to flaunt his success, yet he has no qualms about being seen riding around in a top-of-the-range sports car. Ironically, it was another major league rock and roller with a penchant for plaid shirts and big-hearted songs capable of touching lives as well as shaking asses that showed Grohl how to enjoy success yet still remain a decent human being.
"We played Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit for the first time in 2000," he explains "I was really nervous. We did our stuff more or less unplugged then I went back on and played 'Everlong', just me with an acoustic guitar. I was really giving myself, y'know, and when I finished and looked out, there were Neil Young and David Crosby just standing there, giving me these huge smiles. And I rushed offstage and just started bawling."
Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, sporting an American Civil War-chic handlebar moustache, arrives and further Neil anecdotes are traded. For a while last year it looked as though the Foo Fighters might be on the verge of disbanding - an album was scrapped, dates were cancelled, Grohl joined Queens Of The Stone Age while Hawkins recovered from his near-fatal overdose - but now everything seems solid within the band. "I said I'd come back when we needed each other," says Grohl, "and that's what happened."
When BANG hooks up with the Foos again on the second leg of the tour in Denver,
Colorado, Grohl greets us in the hotel foyer. He's clutching an acoustic guitar that he has been
playing in the bar, fooling around with some riffs. Denver, the Mile High City, is so far above sea level
that it is always difficult for outsiders to adjust to, and Dave, who has had a cold threatening to break out for a
couple of days now, vividly describes the explosion of snot that has beset him since arriving. He's determined
to be fit for the show his band are playing at the Fillmore (a venue run by the same company' who own its more
famous namesake in San Francisco), rather than the outdoor Red Rock arena. Again, Grohl takes the opportunity to see human faces and not a sea of distant dots.
The Denver gig is uplifting: the Foo Fighters seem to be less polished as the tour goes on, although of course they only make it seem that way. There is something of Crazy Horse about them, in the way that they so easily gel together. The inevitable comparisons with Nirvana are still being made by the US mainstream press: Kurt may have been the spokesman for his generation, and in a peculiar sort of way, Dave is as well - it's just that that generation have grown up a little. If Kurt was all about the exhilaration of negativity, then Dave is about the joy of life.
Ten years on, the self-mutilating, Tuinal-gobbling, teenage suicides of 'Generation X' have either topped themselves or gone on Prozac - thats evolution -and the pierced-faced grunge kids of 1992 have become the well-scrubbed mainstream-looking twenty- and thirtysomethings of 2003. If it wasn't for the smattering of street loonies - yes, they're here too - who keep coming up to us vacant-eyed, demanding high-fives and yelling "I KNOW WHERE YOU'RE COMING FROM, MAN! OH YEAH! YOU THINK I DON'T, BUT I DO!" you'd never think that serious drugs had ever been involved.
"The first time I played here was with Scream and I had taken way too many mushrooms," Dave tells the crowd, later on that night. "And then there was a skinhead riot in the lobby of the venue." Disconcertingly, a large section of the crowd begin to bark like dogs in a show of approval, although it's not clear exactly what they are approving of. Mushrooms? Skinhead riots? Of Dave having played in Denver before? Only in America. . . and possibly certain parts of Renfrewshire...
But maybe that's the secret of the Foo Fighters' success: they've distilled three turbulent decades of American punk rock, from The Stooges, MC5 and Blue Cheer to X, Black Flag and Minor Threat, via HUsker Du, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr and made it palatable to the MTV VH1 crowd. And yet lurking just below the surface is the subliminal clarion call to the paranoid babbling wanking-on-buses spin-bin that, I suspect, dwells within us all.
In the early hours of the following day, the Foo Fighters are assembled in the lobby of their hotel ready to trundle on to the next town. Dave is visibly excited that Gregg Ginn from Black Flag had been at the previous night's show (as indeed had various members of Coldplay), and it's clear that he still appreciates the approval of his peers.
"Oh sure," says Dave, "one of my proudest moments was when Grant Hart [ex Husker Du drummer/singer] said to me, 'Dave, you're doing a great thing for drummers everywhere.' That choked me, let me tell you!"
With that, the still smiling Dave Grohl gets back on the bus. The door hisses closed, the engine starts up, and the Foo Fighters disappear on down the road once more.
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