Veteran Seattle survivors (and recent Grammy award-winning) Foo Fighters have been around and rocking for thirteen years now, but February 19, 2008 marked their debut performance at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was such a big deal that FUSE TV broadcast one hour of it, from 11pm to midnight, commercial free and in HD as its first chapter of a new concert series the station will be running.
In near pitch black, the band came out and performed the slow-building personalized rocker "Let It Die," from their aforementioned Grammy-winning latest release Echoes, Grace, Patience, Silence (Capitol). In was quite clear from the first minutes of the show that band leader and ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl was ecstatic to be playing in front of this sold out crowd at MSG; he put his hands above his head and encouraged the fans to clap along with him right away.
Then came the group's latest album's big hit "The Pretender," at which point the cameras took notice of touring cellist/violinist/backup singer Jessy Greene, whose cello playing can only be heard clearly during the song's melodic breakdown. For "Times Like These," the Foos did an extended version and Dave, with the energy of a twenty-year-old, ran up and down a dock-like platform that extended from the middle of the stage to the middle of MSG.
For the band's powerpop hit "Breakout," the audience sang the first part of the first chorus without any cues or music, which was very cool and bold on the band's part. You have to know your audience well in order to pull that off, as many bands and their egos often try and get the audience to sing along, only to get a mild or embarrassingly weak response. Grohl clearly saw many mouths moving among the masses and knew his fans would not let him down; they knew all the lyrics to a lot of songs, "Breakout" included. The track had a lot of punk energy this night, but Grohl did a bit too much screaming. He was a bit overexcited, but the song was performed well nonetheless.
For the next couple of numbers, the Foo Fighters and all its touring members, including percussionist Drew Hester, ex-Germs/Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear, and keyboardist Rami Jaffee played on a circular stage in the middle of MSG. Grohl took off his blue electric guitar and strapped on an acoustic for the Nirvana-era penned "Marigold" and an emotionally charged version of "My Hero." Fans loved Greene's violin solo on "Marigold" and equally dug Jaffee's pretty piano solo on the mournful "My Hero," as the cameras caught one female fan shedding a tear or two during the song's performance.
At this point, you begin to realize just how dynamic and powerful the Foo Fighters have made some of their signature songs. The trademark of a great band is come up with new ways of playing your tunes that do not depart but expand on what made them great in the first place. The acoustic portion of the Foo Fighters show did just that.
For "Everlong," perhaps Grohl's finest songwriting achievement, he started what began as an intimate version of the song all alone on the circular stage with his lightly distorted electric guitar. Grohl later made his way to the main stage to do one final chorus with the main members of his band, which includes Taylor Hawkins (ex-Alanis Morissette) on drums, Chris Shiflett (ex-No Use For A Name) on second guitar, and Nate Mendel (ex-Sunny Day Real Estate) on bass guitar. Another great version of a fan favorite.
Everyone seemed like they were having fun on a long version of "Monkeywrench," which featured some Chuck Berry-ish guitar solos and a short drum solo by Hawkins at song's end. Grohl could be seen nonchalantly tuning a couple of guitar strings during the song's final break, after which he lead the band through the rest of this punk-ish number.
With pitch black lighting, then flashing white lights, and with hair all over his face, Grohl and the band played the hard charging rocker "All My Life." Then, as the show was near its end point, Grohl performed his light, jangly hit "Big Me" from the band's self-titled debut album as a, dare I say romantic duet with Jessy Greene on vocals.
For the last song, the melodic and confessional "Best of You," the audience had their fists in the air, singing every word, and some even crowd-surfed (remember those days?).
In all, for a condensed performance, this was one exhilarating rock show and the songs FUSE chose to air from the Foo Fighters' two-hour show at MSG were well chosen. If this is just the first in a series of commercial free concerts, FUSE will have quite an act to follow for their next program. I give this one four and a half stars.