The Foo Fighters Re-Emerge: “2020 was gonna be the best year ever!” Dave Grohl said, his fists clenched. “We had plans, man!” The last time the Foo Fighters played a full set together, they were closing down the Supernova stage of the Intersect Music Festival last December. Eleven months and several decades later, the COVID-19 pandemic upended each and every one of the Foo Fighters’ carefully laid schemes for the year, including multiple tours, a band-curated festival, and the release of their 10th studio album, Medicine at Midnight. In order to reclaim some of 2020’s promise and build momentum for 2021, the band returned Saturday night with a livestream show emanating from venerable Los Angeles rock club the Roxy. In addition to giving the band a chance to shake off some rust and reconnect with fans, the show also benefited the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a non-profit charity that “provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians and music industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.”
A One-Show Tour: About those plans: like everyone else in the world, the Foo Fighters had prepared for a much busier 2020 before COVID-19. In celebration of their 25th anniversary, the band was set to recreate the itinerary of their first-ever tour from 1995, a trek that would’ve taken them from Ontario all the way to Phoenix in a diagonal cut across the United States and Canada. The Foos were also set to rock the capital with a band-curated Fourth of July celebration called DCJam and hit Europe for a string of summer festival dates. Circumstances reduced that ambitious schedule to last night’s livestream, a fact of the times cheekily alluded to on the “tour” t-shirt for the event; sporting a logo inspired by event sponsor Coors Light on the front, the shirt’s back featured just one date in the space usually reserved for a long list of appearances.
Beer Can Cam: Speaking of Coors Light: viewers who logged on early were treated to shots from the brand’s POV-style Beer Can Cam, which followed one Silver Bullet from the Roxy’s neon-splashed facade, through the temperature check (reading: LO), and into areas of the club usually reserved for artists and crew. As product placements go, it was pretty harmless; the floating disembodied can mostly felt borrowed from a GoldenEye level set at a frat party. The actual behind-the-scenes footage was more valuable, if only to remind everyone at home about the sound and lighting engineers, security personnel, and guitar techs whose hard work makes events like this possible, and whose livelihood is at equal to or greater risk than their artists’ during this year’s touring shutdown.
A Hit of the New Stuff: Last night’s show was billed, in part, as a celebration of the Foo Fighters’ new single, “Shame, Shame”, which made its debut during the band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live in late October. Consensus from the stream’s live chat indicated that the Roxy performance topped its predecessor. Darker and more restrained than most of the night’s stadium anthems, the new single opened up room in the night’s spotlight for guitarist Chris Shiflett (whose careful plucking packed the strength of an entire string section into a single acoustic guitar) and the band’s back-up singers (whose bluesy intonations included an appearance by Grohl’s own daughter, Violet).
Will the rest of Medicine at Midnight chart such a noir course? Well, Grohl also warned fans that they might hear a few unfamiliar things. That turned out to be teasers to three dramatic new songs off the upcoming album. The concert began with a preview of “Making a Fire” before the band launched into “All My Life”. They also ended “Learn to Fly” and “This Is a Call” with outros teasing “Holding Poison” and “No Son of Mine”, respectively.
The Setlist: Apart from “Shame, Shame”, the show’s relatively tight 90-minute runtime left little room for surprises. Instead, the Foo Fighters showed up with the kind of oops-all-hits comfort food required in the middle of a sick, worried autumn. Eleven tracks from the show’s 12-song setlist were released as singles, and half of the show came from just three albums: the band’s most recent (2017’s Concrete and Gold), best-loved (1997’s The Colour and the Shape), and most controversial (2002’s One by One). The biggest deep cut, relatively speaking, might’ve been “This Is a Call”, the band’s debut single played here in honor of the Foo Fighters’ 25th anniversary. While there were scattered calls in the live chat for a little more obscure material, the decision to lean heavily on sing-along-ready fare like “My Hero”, “Learn to Fly”, and “Everlong” was understandable; eight months into a live music shutdown, these big-tent rock anthems offer the kind of beltable release that everyone (band and fan alike) is looking for.