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Foo Fighters At Madison Square Garden, Sunday, June 20th, 2021, Reviewed

 

 

Dave Grohl is the used car salesman of what remains of rock and roll, he is always pitching, always insisting, always bait and switching, always out to prove he is your friend. But 26 years into his career leading Foo Fighters, he becomes transparently busy selling himself to the great unwashed, as a generational rock star.

This was clear during a pretty good set for the reopening of Madison Square Garden to full capacity, filled with vaccinated rock fans aging from the mid-60s to tweens with their family for Father’s Day. Dave was a tower of rock power without the songs to back him up, and the Foo Fighters were as tight a sextet as you’ll ever meet not saved by the uniformed lousiness of Dave’s vision of rock n roll. His melodies aren’t good enough, his back catalog filled with duds you never want to hear, and his sincerity a drag on the proceedings, and yet he captured the zeitgeist perfectly and the capacity audience ate him up.

The last concert I went to at an Arena was The Brothers on March 10th (here), I was meant to follow it up with Billie Eilish and then Pearl Jam at MSG, within days of The Brothers,  and by March 17th, everything had closed down. 15 months later New York City is reaching herd capacity and are, cautiously, filing away their masks and getting back to living again. As pandemics go, I hated the illness and death of Covid-19 but enjoyed the complete aloneness and solitude. Now it is over, it was the sort of year you never expected to have, a hermits dislodging of homo sapien dominance displaced by the return of other species out of the jungles and into the streets of cities. The smog began to lift. The planet took a deep breath and began to heal itself. In other words there are nuances to all of this and nuance isn’t Dave’s strength, sycophancy and sincerity are his calling card and they were on display for all to see last night. Rock music works on irony, from Chuck Berry to the Stones to Nirvana, the best bands mix it up and keep their ego in check, willing to laugh at themselves. Foo Fighters aren’t those guys.

What they are is the sort of band who want to reach out and pull you in, and from the excellently managed entry to the Garden to the acoustic to full band opening song “Times Like These,” anticipation was sky high and FF failed to disappoint, they were loud and raucous with Pat Smears -always my fave Foo, a lynchpin and Taylor Hawkins outstanding. Dave is clearly a rock star of sorts, he held the audience in his grasp and understands the difference between lecturing and talking to the audience. In the cavernous confines of MSG, he connected with a friendly, sometimes jokey, sometimes fake irritated (“I said when we leave, I didn’t say we were leaving. Did I say we were leaving now?”) vernacular. Promising a two and a half hour show, that’s what he provided with a stamina based Dave and a clearly enjoying themselves FF, the band were as energetic as someone who had been doing it for one year and not a quarter of a century. At 52 years of age, and readying himself to be inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall Of fame at its first year of eligibility, he looked greasy and unkempt, a rock and roll avatar for the working class. And his band followed his full tilt performance with nothing but enthusiasm, clicking on stage in ways neither the Strokes nor Kings Of Leon ever managed at the venue. The audience, back at what the Arena dubbed “Rock And Roll Returns To The Arena,” were wildly enthusiastic if not Pearl Jam enthusiastic.

Pearl Jam are clearly the blueprint for Foo Fighters -they both came out of grunge and they both are pure hard rock aviators of the current sound, but Eddie is a serious and intense real man and Dave… Dave is a performance artist selling a bunch of iffy songs with all his might that simply don’t stand up to Nirvana. This is a problem but it is a problem you can hear getting fixed on set highlight “Walk,” a stop and start, tension filled, tempo switching triumph. The set didn’t slacken off, even the songs you don’t wanna hear were momentum builders between the highlights. I’ve always disliked “My Hero” and I still do though less so after the singalong 45 minutes into the set. All three covers, Taylor Hawkins singing lead and Dave on drums for Queens epic “Somebody To Love” (I watched Lady Parts cover a Queen song the day before -now that’s distance between acts), Dave Chappelle, who was in town for the Radio City Music Hall reopening (Elle Smith’s review here)  joining the band for Radiohead’s “Creep,” and, in honor of their upcoming Dee Gees EP, “You Should Be Dancing”. Though it was on his own stuff, a songalongaband “These Days,” one of their best live songs, “Monkey Wrench,” and a strong personal favorite “This Is A Call” that he sold us.  The only song conspicuous by its absence was “Big Me”.

Grohl had a job to do, the band had a job to do, that was to welcome New York City back from the pandemic. And they did it as well as anybody not named Bruce could have. Dave will never be particularly big in my book, he reeks of as far away from teen spirit as you can get, despite his reputation as a nice guy he is a narcissist who just wants to be loved and has spent his career sucking up to rock stars who do it better. He is the rock world’s little brother, holding onto the coattails of better songwriters. But his sincerity was what New York wanted and is what he provided. He might well be a used salesman but sometimes you just wanna buy a car…

Grade: B

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