Realizing this as I fly to Detroit (aka Rock City), I know I must try hard to avoid the "N" word, though, it's difficult to find any other applicable comparison. I hope he doesn't get the wrong impression when I tell him this later during sound check. Grohl has taken strong measures to ensure that no one can blindly assume he's taking advantage of the "N" situation. He played every instrument (he was a guitarist before he was a drummer) on the LP himself. He recorded (every instrument) quietly and without fanfare. He avoided mouthing off to the press on release of the album. He steered well clear of EmpTV's large, corporate arse, which puckered at the thought of being able to generate another generational hero. And he really doesn't talk a whole lot about any of this even now. The album came out with major distribution through Capitol but on a label called Roswell Records. And Dave Grohl has since toured the States and Europe, cracking heads and dropping jaws as he goes, with the wide enthusiastic grin of someone having a good laugh.
St. Andrews in Detroit is a grungy, rough-edged haven of a hall. "Alternative" reeks from it's wooden pores, and the trim balcony that goes around the rectangular dance floor has doubtless seen some stage divers in it's time.
"It always amazes me how many of the kids that come to see Foo Fighters have Nirvana shirts," observes the band's publicist. Pat Smear slouches on a stained sectional sofa in the huge upstairs band area and sighs.
"Oh, I'm hating everything!" he chuckles gleefully. "The shows are great but everything else sucks."
I'm taken aback by this mellow, jolly and humorous man saying such things, and he catches my expression.
"Naaaah, I'm only kidding. It's been great, but I just like to complain. Complaining's sorta fun."
Drummer William Goldsmith is wandering around in a Melvins Fiend Club shirt and garbage-man bright orange trousers. He's either on the cutting edge of fashion or dressed disastrously; it's a tough call. Grohl is downstairs doing a sound check. It is the first time I have managed to see the man, famous for drumming, up front and strumming a Les Paul. He looks very comfortable as he cranks out AC/DC's "Shake a Leg."
"Hey, how's it going? Hungry? There's some great pita sandwiches here. Jennifer's (Grohl's wife) family's from here, and they brought them for us..."
This is how Grohl greets me in the vast, roomy upstairs band "hangout" area. Compared to so many of his miserable, whining or drama-seeking peerage, he is pleasantly mellow, relaxed and excited. He does, though, appear a little perplexed, having had a Rolling Stone writer on his ass for four days trying to pin him down to a tape recorder and ask about Cobain. He refused. Indeed, Grohl's happy to chat like most people, but not in the "tape-recorded interview" setting. "People forget there's still a lot of pain there," sighs the publicist, and although Grohl never says it in those terms, it's obvious.
"He was a nice guy (the Stone reporter), but he just kept saying to me, 'I'm on the line here, I've gotta ask you about Kurt and that stuff,' and I kept on saying to him, 'Well, I won't talk about it,'" furthers Grohl earnestly. "I mean...it's very uncomfortable, that stuff.' I make my point to Grohl that the album has, whether he knows it or not, the same vibe, feel and level of excitement in it's grooves as Nevermind did, irrespective of his own involvement with both.
"I know what you're saying," Grohl concedes, "but it's just...well, let's say I hope not." What Dave Grohl means is that he's not interested in seeing a zoo again so soon after his last trip turned dramatically ugly and essentially left him in a cage-with-golden-bars, where he was in the world's hottest band yet having to spend half his time at home when they should have been highway stars. He is determined to trundle along and play shows, let the self-title album time-release itself as organically as possible, and avoid the hype without saying as much. Anything more seems scary to him.
"Being able to have a booking agent who can get me shows like tonight, get us paid and get us enough money to go on to the next show in a day is just awesome. It's enough right now. I mean, what more could you want?" asks Grohl.
Capitol Records is bemused that Grohl won't do a single official interview for the album right now, but then they've got the dollar signs in their eyes. Still, Fighters manager john Silva has had meetings at the Capitol tower in LA, and explanations of the "slow and easy buildup" type of thing have not exactly been received by the label with flowing joy. But Grohl remains adamant.
"It's strange, but this whole tour has felt like the (first) Nevermind tour - the spirit, the atmosphere, we're even playing the same venues most of the time," says Grohl.
It is obvious that even in saying this, Grohl feels somewhat uncomfortable simply because he's mentioning that "N" word. But he accepts, it seems, that for him immediate life will be a series of comparisons until the fuss and furor die down. He remembers clearly the time it all seemed to go askew in the fame sense for Nirvana, the time when he was forced to be made aware that life wouldn't be normal.
"It was on the Nevermind tour, and I used to room with Kurt. One night I really wanted to get some smokes, so I was stepping out to get my own from downstairs, when Kurt laughed, 'No. We can call and have somebody do that now!' We both knew how absurd it was, we all did, which is why we were always doing things to drive people insane, like absolutely going out of our way to do the exact opposite of what anyone asked, taking it as a challenge. We did that for at least a year." If there's one thing that's obvious about Grohl, it is that he has absolutely no interest whatsoever in cashing in on Kurt Cobain or the Nirvana legacy. There will be no Nirvana covers in the Fighters' set. There have been no sob-story interviews. And the sight of a tape recorder here would be taboo. Grohl's seemingly biggest fear? That he's managed to rediscover an almost naive feeling of innocence and sense of fun that will be taken away by the power of dollar signs and fame and (mis)fortune.
When Foo Fighters take the stage, it is to deliver one of the greatest sets I've seen in years. Everything is a bit faster than usual (as great live puck rock should be), Grohl is plugged into the wall, and fireworks fly abundantly in this 100 degree + sweatbox. Dave Grohl is a legend in the works, an antihero who's nice, cool and fucking hot all at once. His natural synergy with a guitar is alarming. "Alone + Easy Target," with it's super-chunked riff, is given royal treatment, with beat-keeper Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel making it tight at the back, whilst Smear washes the proceedings with lashings of natural cool and color. "I'll Stick Around," of course, gets the joint jumpin' in double-time, and the overall vibe in the hall is one of relaxed, extreme enjoyment.
The real magic of Foo Fighters is their stunning simplicity. It is punk-pop power at it's utter best, needing nothing much more than to be heard for it's true power to be revealed. While it is frustrating that Dave Grohl doesn't wanna record interviews, it's refreshing and weirdly cool that someone is happy, remarkably un-screwed-up and not spewing superlatives all over anyone's tape recorder. Because with Foo Fighters, what you see really is what you get.
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