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The “make lemons out of lemonade” adage has received a very rock ‘n’ roll update courtesy of Dave Grohl over thelast month, as he’s taken the incredible inconvenience of a serious injury and turned it into a running joke fueling the Foo Fighters’ current tour.
Some musicians fall off a stage, break their leg, cancel the rest of their upcoming concerts, and hole up in a hospital somewhere, licking their wounds and ruing the day they didn’t look before they unintentionally leapt. Others opt to get the cast on, grab a pad of paper before the plaster is dry, and design a ridiculous, carnival-ride-on-steroids apparatus that’ll serve as a chair to sit on and elevate the injured limb as they perform, all with the intent to keep the show going and cancel as few gigs as possible while splintered bones heal.
Obviously, Grohl is of the latter persuasion, and the Foo Throne — the gaudy, flashy, light-bulb-popping seat that looks like it was stolen from the Sizzler at your local state fair — is one tall drink of lemonade. To Grohl’s credit, he has a sense of humor about the whole thing; he altered a few lines over the course of his two-and-a-half-hour set at Citi Field to address the offending leg, and ragged on the throne he spent the majority of his time sitting on. “Hopefully, this is the first and fuckin’ last time you’ll see this fuckin’ thing!” he exclaimed. What can you do, right?
Beyond being awkward and ostentatious, the throne presented challenges for the Foos: for starters, the inconvenience of having to work around a giant piece of furniture that slides on pulleys up and down the catwalk into the audience. Grohl overcompensated by screaming — scrrrreeeeeaming — and otherwise delivering full-throttle vocals and guitar licks from the waist up, a distinct change for the typically frenetic frontman. He orated. He preached. Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett, and Pat Smear all stuck to their various corners of the sprawling stage — Mendel planted before his thundering bass cab, Hawkins flailing, assaulting the skins of his kit, Smear pacing and smoking a cigarette — while making their contributions to the Foo hit machine live and in the flesh. “The Pretender,” “Walk,” “Something From Nothing,” and “Congregation,” from last year’s eighth, documentary-inspiring album, Sonic Highways — they tore through the new stuff and the old, blitzing through the hits without pause as Grohl made up for his immobility with roars, jokes, and riffs for days.
And yet the overcompensation continued. The Foo Fighters have been leading off their shows with three of their biggest hits — “Everlong,” “Monkey Wrench,” and “Learn to Fly” — and while fans were delighted to be met with an immediate fusillade of sing-along opportunities, the set was indisputably top-heavy; the band got the strongest stuff out of the way too early. Under ordinary circumstances, the Foo Fighters have no problem filling up two hours and change with a comprehensive rundown of their twenty-year-spanning discography. That plus the selection of covers they love to play, e.g., Queen’s “Under Pressure” and Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” — Grohl quipped that “everyone knows we’re the highest-paid fuckin’ cover band in the world” — normally make for a fuller-than-full evening. But there were several instances at Citi Field where Grohl rambled a bit too far beyond his punchlines, or the noodling took a turn for the mundane, or the filler between songs and solos dragged on for moments more than it should have, giving off the impression that they were seeking to fill that typical two and a half hours when they didn’t necessarily have it in them, due to Grohl’s injury. His efforts, and those of the rest of the Foos, were superhuman, and their reputation for delivering one of the most satisfying, eardrum-ravaging live shows out there is well-known. But the best moments here were not when Grohl was ripping his vocal cords to shreds or running the clock out making the audience laugh, but when the Foos simplified, either diving headfirst into “Everlong” or stripping down to acoustic guitars and crutches for the mid-set triumph of “Hero” and “Times Like These.” No bravado, no metal-vocal acrobatics: just Grohl, Shiflett, Smear, and thousands of people howling along to the same well-worn verses.
Last fall, when Sonic Highways aired on HBO and the Foo Fighters performed a small club show in each of the cities in which they had recorded a track from the album, the glee was palpable, the crowds kinetic, and three hours blew by in the blink of an eye. That same excitement was there at Citi Field, but the spectacle surrounding Grohl’s injury ultimately came across less as a joke the crowd was in on and more of a distraction — and a, well, crutch: a gag they didn’t necessarily need to perform what might have been a solider, shorter show. They’re victims to their own standards in the sense that they absolutely wanted to deliver the best show they could, circumstances be damned — but sometimes, it’s better to just suck it up, grab the crutches, leave the throne and the theatrics in the greenroom, and do what you do best.
For the Foo Fighters, that’s unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll — with moments rife with musical nerdery thrown in for good measure. Grohl’s to be commended for trying to make the most of a shitty situation, as is the rest of the band; no one can fault them for getting creative with the solution to a show-stopping problem. Their act may suffer with a seated frontman, but it’s a testament to the high standards they hold themselves to that the Foo Fighters can still deliver a satisfying set when they’ve got a man down.