Thursday, March 24, 2011

Foo Fighters, Auckland Town Hall, 22 March 2011

After a few busy days at work, I've finally found the time to write about what was a phenomenal Foo Fighters concert on Tuesday night.

So, this concert was announced at very short notice last week as a fundraiser for the Christchurch Earthquake Relief appeal. The Foos were to come down here and play a one-off show at the Auckland Town Hall, and they would donate all the proceeds to the appeal.

Just to put this in perspective, the Town Hall is 2,300 capacity. I mean, it's a fantastic venue, possibly my favourite. But this is a band that sold out Vector Arena twice (that's about 20,000 punters). So yeah, tickets were going to be in high demand... but seeing one of my favourite bands at a fantastic, intimate venue... well I had to. And I was stoked when I did get tickets - although that's a long and convoluted story in itself (unsurprisingly, it sold out VERY fast).

I have been, and continue to be, a big Foos fan. This was the fifth time I've seen them live - the others being at the Auckland Town Hall in 1998 (on the back of the Colour and the Shape!), Big Day Out 2002, The Mt. Smart Supertop in 2005, and Vector Arena in 2009. They are my most-seen band that isn't Shihad (NZ icons that they are).

And they've been great every time, a consistently excellent live act. Something about their blend of rock and melody just seems to make them a very potent live force, more so than on record. But this show, this was something really special. A one-off, unique piece of rock history. Not part of a tour, a special show for a special cause.

And it was sensational, every bit as good as I expected. Walking out to (predictably) rapturous applause, the Foos were surrounded by fans on all four sides. Even the area behind the stage (which has rows of steps leading up to the organ) had people seated there - which was pretty cool. Dave announced that they were going to start with the new album - which personally I thought was pretty cool. Not many bands have the guts to start a show by playing 11 new songs in a row - but I guess it was a good chance to road-test the material. Highlights here included first single Rope, the brash White Limo (which is a total throwback to Wattershed and The Colour and the Shape), Arlandria, and Walk.

But I was impressed - the whole thing sounded good. If I had a criticism of the Foos, it would be that they haven't produced a great album in quite some time. Every album from There is Nothing Left to Lose onwards starts strong and tapers off in the second half - in fact, aside from the new album there were only two songs in the set that appear on the second half of an album. But this album... well it could change that. I'll reserve judgment until I can properly sit down and listen to it, but I'm optimistic. And bonus points also for the fact that already, they're jamming around with some of these songs, notwithstanding they've barely played them live yet - the Rope outro got a nice little power-chord kicker.

Then it was basically into a greatest hits setlist, with a few extras, starting with the particularly grunty live favourite All My Life.

Dave still has that affecting habit of replacing the occasional lyric with a howl or a 'fuck yeah' when things are going particularly well - we got a lot of that. Lucky the crowd all knew the words.

The crowd erupted into a full-blown singalong on My Hero which the band specifically dedicated to Christchurch - one of the highlights of the evening.

Up in Arms
was unexpected but cool - and reflecting on how the drum part to the quieter opening section was about the only Will Goldsmith drum part that Dave Grohl didn't overdub on The Colour and the Shape made me reflect on the current line-up - which I think makes it pretty apparent that there are at least three essential members of the band now: Grohl, Nate Mendel and Taylor Hawkins. Mendel has been there from the start and his basslines contain clever and often underappreciated counter-melodies. Dave referred to Taylor as "the greatest rock drummer in the world"... maybe that's Dave being humble, but Taylor is pretty essential to the band's sound now.

Anyway, I digress again. Cold Day in the Sun saw Taylor singing while playing drums - often him and Dave swap instruments for this song.

And then the biggest highlight of the show: Stacked Actors. I picked it as soon as he changed guitars (which actually didn't happen a lot). There is this distinctive blue guitar Dave uses for this track live - I recall it from the 08 show. Of course the second hint was Dave's intro: "this is a fucking rad song". Because it is a fucking rad song. It might be the best song the Foos have ever written. And it went off. The bridge section had a big improv jam as it normally does these days. The twist was that Dave ran around the entire upper circle of the Town Hall while doing it. At one point he was just a couple of metres away from me - and that was very cool. There was this one great sequence of call and response guitar duels between Dave and Chris Shiflett. Which doesn't sound that unusual - except they were on opposite sides of the venue! There were a couple of minders who had a pretty miserable time chasing Dave around the circle, that was funny too. Eventually he made it back to conclude the song (and complain about being groped on his little expedition).

The video below is not great but gives you some idea of the awesomeness.

They wrapped up the main set with a huge three song blast from TCATS: Monkey Wrench, Hey, Johnny Park!, and Everlong.

And of course there was an encore - in fact there was a 5 song encore. At the start of the night Dave promised to play 30 songs - and they fucking did! First up was The Pretender. This was pretty cool, because the Town Hall has a big-ass pipe organ at the back - which Rami Jaffee used for the song's intro. It was kinda Phantom of the Opera, and very cool.

Then we got Aurora and Breakout - neither of which I expected (but bear in mind I'd assumed a 3-song encore), and the latter was an especially cool surprise.

The last two songs came as no surprise to anyone - Best of You (again, a big singalong) and then they "took us back to where it all began" by finishing with the original Foos single This is a Call. I can still remember hearing this on the radio, at a mate's place, when I was in high school. We thought the line "fingernails are pretty... fingernails are good" was hilarious then. It still is - and that song just always takes me back to those happy, carefree days.

And that was that - barely ten minutes shy of the midnight curfew. We got thirty songs, three hours, and one truly awesome show - thanks in part to an incredibly enthusiastic audience (but hey, we did all pay at least $175 to be there!).

I'll admit to feeling a little guilty that I only got the privilege of going to this show because of the earthquake in Christchurch. But I'll wear my t-shirt from the show ("The power of Christchurch compels you") proudly and I hope the funds raised make a difference to the people down there who have been hit pretty hard.

Full setlist:

Bridge Burning
Dear Rosemary
White Limo
These Days
Back & Forth
A Matter of Time
Miss The Misery
I Should Have Known
All My Life
Times Like These
Learn To Fly
My Hero
Up in Arms
Long Road to Ruin
Big Me
Cold Day in the Sun
Stacked Actors
Skin and Bones
Monkey Wrench
Hey, Johnny Park!

The Pretender
Best of You
This is a Call


m0rph3us said...

Oh - and thanks to delphijunkie for drawing my attention to several of the Youtube vids!

simongnz said...

Great article - thanks.