As many of you are aware, last Friday night the Foo Fighters played a surprise gig at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara, where they debuted their entire new album (which is still nameless).
After a week of Twitter taunts and guessing games, they again hit a tiny stage to run through the new jams, this time at the Dragonfly in Hollywood. Tickets were hard to come by, as only around 200 of them were made (and printed on nifty FF-embroidered wristbands).
The collection of flannelled Hollywood types, devoted Foo Fighters aficionados and whoever else made up the crowd were treated to an exhaustively rich set list filled with deep cuts, hits, and the aforementioned untitled new album.
It can definitively be stated that yes, this new record is BY FAR the “heaviest” work the Foos have produced thus far in their prolific career. In fact, it sounds like the band’s best output since 2002’s One By One, or perhaps even since There Is Nothing Left to Lose.
Before they hit the stage around 10:30, the legendary Bob Mould of Husker Du warmed up the crowd by playing solo, armed with only his electric guitar. Anybody unfamiliar with Mould or Husker Du had to still be impressed by his effort, playing through a handful of songs in around half an hour. Personally, I am not very familiar with Husker Du, other than knowing that they were among Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands. Still, Mould was a good warm up for the Foos, exuding a sense of “I’ve inspired a lot of your favorite bands” with each passionate song he played.
Finally, after roughly two and a half hours of standing around in the packed Dragonfly nightclub, Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, Nate Mendel and Pat Smear hit the stage, with Grohl asking “You guys wanna hear our new record?”
At that point, the magic started. Ripping into Bridge Burning, previously available as a snippet/teaser on the Foos’ official site, it was evident that yes, children, this album will crush.
Shiflett’s chugging guitar riffs led the charge on this song, with Grohl’s loud scream of These are my famous last words transitioning into more standard Foo-territory verse. It’s a great opening track, showing off the band’s ability to blend aggression (the opening) with their trademark catchiness.
Rope sounded like one of the stronger new songs, starting with some echoing guitar chords that lead into a more hushed vocal style by Grohl, at times resembling that of Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme. The song also has a great radio-friendly hook, making it prime radio-single territory. The instrumental break during the middle of the song was impressive, causing just about every head in the room to violently shake around. Thus is the power of the Foos.
Dear Rosemary was probably the highlight of the set, with Mould joining the band onstage for more guitarring. The song has a very strong 1990s feel to it, from the cascading main riff to its groove-laden rhythm. It also, somehow, manages to sound like it would fit in well in the 1970s, a testament to the song’s intricate structure and urgent sound.
This is a near-perfect Foo Fighters song, worthy of being considered among their best, assuming the recorded version does justice to the live performance.
White Limo was up next, and was more unlike anything the Foos have ever done (except for a few B-sides). It again visits QOTSA territory, with a propelling driving riff and Grohl screaming his vocals with a frenetic energy seldom used on other Foo records. Yes, SCREAMING. The riffs started and stopped repeatedly, allowing Grohl to howl like a man possessed when need be.
It’s the kind of song that would confuse the Foo Fighters Radio Hit fans, as it’s quite a far cry from the soft balladry of a song like Times Like These. Frankly, the song kicked ass.
Arlandria made a strong case for “lead single” as well. It’s loaded with an arena-friendly hook, a driving, pounding rhythm and Grohl alternating from soft verses to the loud shouting in the chorus, aided by a rich melody that is carried out throughout the song. It was definitely one of the better of the new songs. Get ready to sing this song in your car in a few months.
The rest of the new album songs were just as impressive, especially the riff-heavy Miss the Misery (also one of the “teasers” from the Foo website) and I Shoulda Known, a hauntingly beautiful song that was the album’s only chance to slow down and feel things out a bit. Veiled lyrics might lead someone to think I Shoulda Known is about Kurt Cobain, but the overarching feeling the song gave off was more of a jilted lover/disillusioned partner theme than a concerned ex-bandmate one. It was one of the more affecting songs from the set, with an earnestness and an energy that hopefully translate just as powerfully on the actual album.
Walk closed out the new songs, and it would also make for a solid radio single that could go on to end up on some “Definitive Collection” album years from now.
After Walk ended, Dave simply stated “so that’s the new album. This is not.” Then, rather than take a break, the guys slammed into the lengthy catalog-spanning follow-up set.
I didn’t obtain a set list from the show, nor could I find one to photograph for this review, but most of the songs were as follows:
All My Life
Times Like These
I’ll Stick Around
Learn to Fly
Up In Arms (played after Grohl’s long speech about his newfound love for Twitter and how he “hated it at first” because “I didn’t have an album to promote” just yet.)
For All the Cows
Hey, Johnny Park!
This Is A Call
It had been a lifelong goal of mine to see I’ll Stick Around live, so that was a definite high point in the evening for me. Aurora was also incredible, building and moving in a whirlwind of guitar feedback and layered melody that is just as moving live as in the studio.
During Grohl’s Twitter rant, he mentioned that these secret special shows are a lot of fun, and that “We want to do four of these. Or five.” He definitely loves baiting the rabid crowd hungry for more Foo goodness.
If the gig at the Dragonfly was any indication, the upcoming album may go down as one of the band’s shining moments in a career that is already astoundingly shiny. Hit record after hit record, arena and stadium-pleasing anthem after arena and stadium-pleasing anthem, the Foo Fighters show no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, the new songs sound just as full of life and substance as any from the late 1990s. In a musical landscape riddled with nonsense and half-assery, it’s quite refreshing to see five dudes (all pushing or near 40 years of age) rocking this hard, with such precise and focused abandon. It’s clear they do this because they love it, and also because they’re very, very good at it. The day they slow down or stop altogether is a day I don’t want to imagine.
So I’ll see you next week at the next Twitter-only secret special gig, basking in the glory of one of the best, most hardworking and accomplished rock bands of the past twenty or so years.
Dave imparted some wisdom before rocking off the stage into the night when he said “Don’t ever believe a rock star that says ‘I hate being rich and famous.’ It’s fucking awesome.”
So are you, Dave, and so is your band. Please never stop doing what you’re doing.
(Note: Thanks to Antiquiet’s review of last week’s gig for the setlist reference).