“Well this is nice, this is quaint,” Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl said, taking in the audience Thursday night at the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. He tucked his mane behind both ears like a professor adjusting his reading glasses. It’s been a while since Grohl, 52, could recognize faces from the stage since he mostly performs to thousands in football stadiums.
“How the hell did everyone get tickets for this?” Grohl joked. “I’m just assuming, a good internet connection?”
The spectacular one-off show marked the beginning of Rock Hall weekend. On Saturday, a Beatle will induct all six members — Grohl, guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, keyboardist Rami Jaffee, bassist Nate Mendel, and drummer Taylor Hawkins — into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Foos seem legitimately psyched about the distinction. And the gravitas of their induction year, being the first ceremony following two years of pain and devastation, wasn’t lost on them.
“RIP Charlie” was scrawled on Hawkins’ drumkit at the heart of the stage. Longtime fans (which was basically all 1,200 of us) knew the band was grieving the loss of their manager, Andy Pollard. The deferential tone fed into the first three songs, forming a kind of hard-rock homily, starting with the heartrending 1999 song “Aurora” — arguably Grohl’s most evocative songwriting — then to 2002’s unrepentant “All My Life,” to the invigorating gust of “Learn to Fly.”
Then, the show took off. “I was fuckin’ born in Ohio,” Grohl bellowed as cheers and fists seized through the air. “I’ve got some roots in this motherfucker.”
They barreled through singalongs like “The Sky Is A Neighborhood,” “My Hero,” and “Walk,” giving way to plenty of cliffhanger drum-blasts and guitar attacks. All of it felt more visceral when you can actually see the veins popping out on either side of Grohl’s neck choker.
For all sheer intensity, the other big highlight was that no one was particularly shy about launching into a full-blown solo midway into whatever song they were doing or letting a riff meander into an extended jam. Drummer Taylor Hawkins — the Iggy-est Foo — who sat atop his hot-pink drumkit, all white teeth and blond hair blowing everywhere, gave “Hero” a percussive face-lift. Grohl would often just stop to marvel at this zen surfer beast pounding away like a machine. “No one has worked harder,” Grohl said of Hawkins, trailing off, then prompting him to do another solo. “Take that, Carole King!”
Even famed concert photographer, Danny Clinch, ventured onstage for a rollicking harmonica solo during “The Pretender.”
Surprisingly, some the most feverish, blues improvisations occurred during the new songs (like the bruising “No Son of Mine”) from their recently released 10th album, Medicine at Midnight. You could tell it was a new song when they trotted out the trio of backup singers (one of whom was Grohl’s teenage daughter, Violet).
Hard rock was balanced with disco fever. Grohl determined there was “too much rock” as he was snapping his gum (was he been chewing gum this whole time?) and brought back the backup singers for the DeeGees moment of the night, a cover of Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancin,’” which has been a setlist staple this year.
Hawkins and Grohl also traded places for Hawkins’ euphoric rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” which was particularly apt considering that the Foos inducted Queen into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Hawkins turned to watch Grohl give a drum solo, crouching at the lip of the stage. Later, he introduced Grohl, who will be inducted into the hall of fame for the second time after initially entering with Nirvana in 2014.
“I don’t know when the third’s coming, but I know it is,” Hawkins said. “Is there a Book Hall of Fame?” (Someone in the crowd answered: “The Pulitzer Prize?”)
Since its inception, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been contentious and fraught for musicians. As more ’90s bands become eligible for entry into the hall, there has been no shortage of pettiness and rage, from Trent Reznor saying he “couldn’t give less of a shit” about Nine Inch Nails getting snubbed over the years to Axl Rose’s 1,000-word “open letter” defending his right to not be inducted, to Radiohead abstaining from the ceremony altogether (although none of those hold a candle to the Grateful Dead in 1994, who arrived onstage toting a cardboard cutout of Jerry Garcia, who boycotted the event.)
There’s none of that with the Foo Fighters. And after the last two hellacious years, thank God. Who better than Grohl and Co. to deliver some much-needed rock and roll catharsis. In Cleveland, and everywhere else.
“We’ll be back,” Grohl said at the end of the show, his left eyebrow aloft. “But next time you see us, we’ll be 100 yards away in some big stadium, probably opening for the Chili Peppers.”
Foo Fighters House of Blues Set List:
“All My Life”
“Learn to Fly”
“No Son of Mine”
“The Sky Is A Neighborhood”
“You Should Be Dancin’” (BeeGees cover)
“Somebody to Love” (Queen cover)
“Times Like These”
“Young Man Blues” (Mose Allison cover)
“Best of You”
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