Summertime and the livin’s easy
July is my favorite time of the year, specifically July 17th.
It’s my wife’s birthday and aside from my two delicious chocolate labs she’s my favorite living thing on the planet. I genuinely enjoy celebrating her day.
It’s also the middle of summer and I love the heat, the beach and ice cream, sometimes all at once standing under a hot sun covered in both sand and mint chip. When raking the endless piles of fall leaves and shoveling Nor’easter snow treating both like unpaid shift work I think about this time of year longingly. If you ever hear me say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”, please give me a gentle open-hand reminder of my loss of perspective.
I’m also a huge baseball fan and I’ve always loved the All-Star game, also scheduled for 7.17. As a kid I would belly up to the living room TV with mom by my side and a formidable stack of mozzarella sticks in front of me to enjoy baseball’s best go at it. Now I belly up at a bar, with, I’d imagine, someone’s mom in the vicinity, as many mozzarella sticks as come in an appetizer portion in front of me and a fifty spot on the national league to win. Life really does come full circle.
There was one more reason that I love this time of year… Yes! It’s concert season! The time of year where I’m a short ride and a small fortune away from the biggest acts in the world, steamy musical revelry.
This year was a little different. As life continually flexes its 8th grade bully’s sense of humor, my wife was traveling for work on her birthday, my best pal with whom I’ve watched the last 17 all-star games consecutively was also away on a family vacation (streak broken). Weather-wise my summer oasis felt more like the last seat in the wet sauna and I had a wicked bout of vertigo. If you’ve never had vertigo it feels like a hangover that’s especially pissed at you without the fun of actually getting drunk. On the 17th I woke up and figured I’d grab a sleeve of Lorna Doones, some room temperature G2 and crawl under the bed until my wife got home, the game was over, the rain stopped and my vertigo spin eased; Dave Grohl had different plans for me.
The Foo Fighters July 17th night #2 show at Madison Square Garden had been sold out for weeks but thanks to a certain ticket re-sale site and some motivation by a DVR’d CBS Sunday Morning segment from two days prior featuring the Foos, I had no choice but to go see the preeminent rock band at the iconic Madison Square Garden.
The Foos’ vibe reached an hour north into the NJ burbs and onto my NJ transit train. The connecting train pulls into the Penn Station, which is just below The Garden. A gentleman is his 50’s walked onto the train with his wife/lady friend. He had on the Foo Fighters Citi Field concert T-shirt which, If you remember, was the tour that Dave Grohl fell off of the stage, broke his leg, dislocated his ankle, continued that show by having a medic hold his damaged limb all night and then played every show going forward in a cast. His now famous throne that he sang from on that tour could only be described as the chair Freddie Mercury would have used for front man “sit-downs” with his legendary peers. I digress, the man in the t-shirt, stoically faced forward and was seemingly unenthusiastic about his destination. I imagined it like this, the t-shirt told the real story. Like many, he’d been waiting to show his Foo colors for a while, with each train stop inching closer to the show, his Foos and his music the salt and peppered gent’s closeted head banger pounded harder and harder on rock and rolls door. Hell yeah.
A quick drink before the drink:
Off of the train and with a short time to kill I stopped at a nearby bar. I felt it was wise to have a couple in anticipation of concert beer at aged scotch prices.
Sitting at a small table facing the door of the east side pub, a slight man dressed fastidiously moved briefly by the door like smoke billowing up from the sewer. Immediately recognizing the caricature rather than the man himself I ran out to catch him and say hello. Gay Talese, famed writer and one of my favorites, hustled surprisingly spryly, for just turning 86, into the front door of a classic New York building as if he owned it, he may have. Although I didn’t get a chance to compliment him on his writing or his khaki trench coat it was a great spotting him and it felt like a quiet affirmation that I was in a better place than being under my bed coughing up short bread cookies.
Madison Square Garden
No matter how you feel about NYC there’s an unmistakable electric energy, especially when you’re heading to an event at MSG. Home to The Rangers and The Knicks respectively the iconic venue has also played host to historic boxing matches like Ali Vs. Frazier in ’71, Pope John Paul II’s visit to a sold out youth rally in ’79 and more recently Billy Joel’s residency which just had his 100th show. Walking through its corridors the building’s storied past is palpable.
Geographically, the Garden almost feels wrong — in a good way. It’s in the middle of one of the more densely populated and situated cities in the World.
I’m a bit partial, I was born about a mile from the Garden, but I feel like if God had to give the United States a routine check of vitals the great creator would place two fingers directly on the roof of the Garden to check the pulse.
Operating under these terms, this night in particular would have guaranteed a prescription to slow a rapid heart rate.
Concrete, Gold, Struts and a lot of couples:
With the second of two sold out shows in NYC the Concrete and Gold tour is in the middle of its US leg. The opener, The Struts, an English Rock band, are led by the talented and adventurously fashionable Luke Spiller. If his vocals are driving the car the flamboyant rocker’s chic duds were riding shotgun.
The opening act often has the challenge of keeping the attention of a crowd that has not yet completely filled in. The Struts didn’t seem fazed by the task.
Enthusiastic and professional the Rock and Roll aperitif primed our appetite for the popular headliner. Most enjoyable was “Could Have Been Me” and “Put Your Hands Up”. They are less of a derivative and more of an homage to the great UK bands that have come before them like Queen, more of that later.
All at once any pockets of empty seats filled in while the distinct hum of idle conversation and frenetic movement silenced. As the room grew dark the crowd roared.
Suddenly and steadily Foo Fighter silhouettes slinked onto the enormous dimly lit stage. The unmistakable opening riff of “All My life” sizzled, repeated and repeated again and like a pace car on race day the tone was set. This is going to be great. Familiarly gritty, the dirty lick sent the crowd into frenzy. Professional rockers; the couple of hundred feet between us took about a decade of years off of their faces and for the most part the band looks exactly like they always have in interviews, music videos, feature length documentaries and even in their Carpool Karaoke.
The only marked change is that Taylor Hawkins’, the prolific drummer, ditched his usual board shorts for cheetah print stretch pants. New York just makes you feel funky I guess.
After the third FF’s hit, Dave’s uniform, a long black T-shirt, black jeans and hair nearly reaching his waist, was fully soaked through with some combination of sweat and the water he’d been throwing on himself.
Before singing “The Sky is a Neighborhood” from the Concrete and Gold album, the four conspicuously lonely microphones towards the back of the stage were joined by three women and one special young singer. Violet Grohl, Dave’s daughter, joined the three vocalists to sing back up on the first of a few songs the singers intermittently accompanied. The talented quartet added some great depth to the music and Violet, getting no special treatment, remained composed, added value and unforced sentimentality to the set. Also, needless to say even Dave Grohl is capable of embarrassing his young teen-aged daughter. It was sweet and I am sure went a very long way in encouraging a hopefully long singing career for Violet.
The Foo Fighters
The band includes drummer Taylor Hawkins, lead guitarist Chris Shiflett, rhythm guitarist Pat Smear, bass guitarist Nate Mendel, organ/keyboard magician Rami Jaffee and Dave Grohl who kind of does everything. They play with deftness and a supernatural synchronicity — likely a testament to their hours of personal practice and 23 years the band, mostly the same crew, has been together. On any team, knowing your role is paramount. Watching Dave’s free spirited charisma running amok on stage, the players expose themselves. Hawkins, Dave’s corner man, encourages and and keeps him hyped. Not secondarily, Shiflett, Mendel, Jaffe and Smear unflappably hold the tethers to Grohl’s larger than life stage presence like volunteer handlers at The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They do so with care, simplicity, dexterity and governance — and every once a healthy eye roll.
After a short lull and the first near silence since they took the stage Grohl stepped forward and without warning let out a primal scream that would render any one of us without a voice for at least a few days. This initiated conversation with the crowd. Grohl continually hoisted his guttural greeting into the sea of cell phone flashes and flashlights. “Night two”, “Night two” he repeated. “You better make more noise than night one!”-Repeat primal scream-I’m all in.
By playing songs like the epic crowd favorite “My Hero”, “Walk”, “Rope” and new track “Sunday Rain” the band smoothly maintained a solid balance for old and new fans alike.
The Piano man and some saxophone:
Grohl, being a student and fan of music, talked a bit about the venue itself and Billy Joel’s recent 100th show, following the conversation up with an abridged version of “You May Be Right”. Even the shortened version was gobbled up and appreciated by a, presumably majority, tri-state crowd.
“Le Dee Da” erupted with little regard for healthy eardrums or fan conversation. Special guest and sax legend Dave Koz accompanied the band. What could easily, in the wrong hands, have turned into a gimmick turned cacophony was one of the most enjoyable pieces all night. Koz stood at the edge of the stage and blasted that woodwind to kingdom come. I should have played an instrument.
Like a dirty blonde jack-in-the-box, if you wind him up you can only hold Hawkins down so long. The spotlight was eventually going to find him and it did for a memorable drum solo where he and his entire kit elevated thirty feet high.
A few songs later he traded drumsticks for the microphone with his BFF Grohl.
The simple exchange was treated as casually as two buddies swapping car keys for the road map on a short leg of a trip. It’s been said many times, but to have Dave Grohl as your “back up” drummer is surreal. Luke Spiller from The Struts made his way out to the stage as well. High fashion and higher cheekbones were on point as the two rockers dove headfirst into in the Queen/Bowie Classic “Under pressure”. The rakishly delicate duo nailed the songs nuances and staccato making for a fine respite from Foos originals.
Winding down without losing steam:
The songs rolled on and as is the case with any great experience that little feeling in your gut tells you that this will be over soon — Grohl says not yet. DG’s youthful spirit seems to also dictate his energy level. The thrashing tempo never waned, not once. He swallows up the entire stage. Engaging and purely entertaining, this guy is doing exactly what he’s supposed to do. When you see that in any realm, as rare as it is, it’s perfectly clear.
“One last thing before I quit I never wanted any more than I could fit into my head I still remember every single word you said and all the shit that somehow came along with it still there’s one thing that comforts me since I was always caged and now I’m free” Monkey Wrench
The anthemic “Run”, a song off of Concrete and Gold, in my humble opinion, reinforces The Foo Fighters’ continued relevance as they continue to create quality music without the preciousness of reinvention, a trap many long tenured acts perpetrate. Downright stirring, “We run, we run” permeated every hallway, rafter and minimal void of the sold out arena.
After the last song of the regular set, a solid version of “Best of You”, DG didn’t pretend the show was over as the band took a short break. I can only imagine the guys backstage needing a few more minutes and Dave tugging at the bottom of their shirts like a little kid that wants to go out and play. The break was short. Prior to starting the three song encore Dave proclaimed “Someone’s gonna have to pay some union penalties tonight” referring to the late hour.
Grohl said goodbye for now in an ideal way, with their classic “Everlong”.
The few people of the thousands that had been seated joined the standing masses to sing along to arguably the most popular of their hits, a song they’ve played many many times. They played with continued fervor and joy whether feigned or genuine , we bought it. Soon after the song ended the entire band including backup singers and Violet Grohl came out for a group bow worthy of a Broadway show. We were close enough to Broadway so it seemed fitting. Finally, Dave was on stage with his daughter alone for a brief moment to take one last bow together. It must have been very special for them both.
Long road to ruin and home:
Exiting the Garden you could see the afterglow on people’s faces and a few whose shocked malaise may have been more indicative of their seat’s proximity to the speakers. It felt like the home team just won a pivotal game 6. With hard rock, robust effervescence and passion for their craft, The Foo Fighters showed why they’re loyal fan base is still buying out stadiums and arenas to see them and why that same fan base now includes younger generations of rock fans.
As the excitement subsided I was hoping the music rocked the vertigo out of me. It didn’t, but I didn’t care. What a time, what a show. I earned my ringing ears and had about an hour left on the train back to NJ. With idle time and a dead phone I looked around and enjoyed the Foo Fighter/commuter camaraderie seeing varying fans that also could hear very little at that point, judging by the volume of mundane conversation. As a limited train schedule would have it, the fans included the older gent I mentioned early. Remaining stoic and without any indication of having just seen an earth shaking concert he seemed different. Even with a solid poker face, I felt like something had changed. Sometimes I’m a little slow. Got it. He was now cumbersomely wearing his new Foo Fighters tour shirt over the old one. There was something about this that struck me as a great punctuation to the night.
The enduring spirit of the music fan in this case the Foo Fighter fan. There is a special symbiotic relationship between band and fan. Not to oversimplify but they pour their hearts out and create soundtracks to our everyday lives and we come out and support them when they’re in town no matter how many days/years and style of tour t-shirts pile up between shows.
Years keep ticking away and folding into one another and the Foo Fighters are still grinding, entertaining, and making people happy by providing timeless rock and roll escapism. They’re my and other approximated generations Rolling Stones, Bruce, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and so on. Before the music purists, if you’ve made it this far, jump out of your chair, what I mean is that The Foo Fighters, if they choose, will be sprinting around the Garden for a couple of decades to come and someday I’ll be the stoic old dude stacking tour shirts while quietly hoping that they play “Stacked Actors”. Hopefully sooner though, I’ll see Grohl, Hawkins, Smear, Shiflett, Jaffe, Mendel and the quietest train riding Foos fanatic for another super charged set.
~ Andrew Parise