‘Fingers Crossed for the New Guy’, reads the front of drummer Josh Freese’s cut-off T, as the newest iteration of the Foo Fighters takes to the stage at the buzzy Boston Calling— the musical centrepiece of the city’s Memorial holiday weekend. There was never any doubt that the band would rise to the occasion. These seasoned music pros have honed their craft to something nearing, if not perfection, certainly supremacy in their field. There was also never any doubt that Freese, an accomplished session drummer for the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, and Paramore, would be able to carry the Foo’s rich back catalogue on his drum skins. There was, however, a different kind of uncertainty in the air tonight.
As the crowd justles under the blazing sunset wearing merch from their favourite band, the sense of anticipation that preludes any Foo Fighters gig is tinged with extra expectation. There’s an acknowledgement of a particular absence and overarching sadness that rarely comes before a bombastic Foos headline set. Last year’s passing of drummer Taylor Hawkins was always bound to hang heavy over the proceedings, the question being how this veteran band, led by Dave Grohl, a man who has lost more than one close friend far too early, was going to navigate the tragedy.
Freese takes on the role of main curio confidently, establishing himself throughout the set. Following the assured opening of ‘Rescued’, the opening track from imminent album ‘But Here We Are’, he thrashes around his kit on ‘Walk’, the closer of 2011’s low-key ‘Wasting Light’, eschewing any doubt of his abilities, if there were any. It is only one part of a very drum-heavy set, where it’s quite clear the band are using this as an opportunity to showcase their new percussion section, and reassure everyone, maybe even themselves, that it’s okay to carry on.
It’s hard not to read into Grohl’s every gesture and movement. Still, for the most part, he’s here to do what he always does— own the asses of the crowd in front of him, as they hang on every shredded note that emerges from his mouth, somewhere underneath a cascade of shoulder-length, sweat-drenched hair. Any spirit, joy de vivre, or vitality one could have forgiven Grohl for losing in the last year he double downs on now, as he leans into his emotions and delivers a performance of depth and grit. The crowd explodes at the first sign of ‘Learn to Fly’, but ‘Times Like These’ is the first track to hit particularly hard as Grohl opens the song unaccompanied. Songs, as he observes throughout the show, take on new meaning as time goes on, starting out as one thing and turning into something else, and the words, “It’s times like these you learn to love again”, pack a greater emotional punch than ever before.
There’s a noticeable lack of audience interaction for the first five songs as the band rattles through the early part of their set, giving newcomer Freese space to showcase his talents, but also space for Grohl and his bandmates to steady themselves in front of only the third audience they’ve played to since the death of Hawkins. But then good ol’ Dave comes to the fore. “I know it’s embarrassing to hear your parents sing a song. Tough shit”, he says as the audience screams ‘Breakout’s refrain back at him. There’s also a self-consciousness beaming from the band, as if they’re asking fans “Is this okay?’” and it feels strange and emotional when Grohl goes to face the kit and someone else is sitting there. But when someone new takes a seat at the drums, Hawkin’s son Shane, he’s met with a wave of love and rapturous applause from the captivated crowd. After he takes on ‘I’ll Stick Around’, Grohl remarks, “That’s what it felt like 27 years ago” making the crowd wonder if perhaps there’ll be another full-time Hawkins behind the Foo’s kit one day. The night continues to be a family affair, with Grohl’s daughter joining her dad on vocal duties for ‘Rope’ and the underrated ‘Shame Shame’.
But tonight is about the newest member of the Foo’s family. Once they’d settled into their classic line-up, Dave and Taylor were clear talismen of the group. It was always going to be unsettling for everyone to witness a new face behind the kit given the circumstances, but Freese adds an accomplished tightness and thrust to the band’s sound, giving tracks like ‘Best of You’, for example, an angry urgency it hasn’t had in years.
To say the Foo Fighters are reinvigorated would be to suggest that they were somehow on the wane before, but the new dimension and momentum Freese adds to their sound lends them a slickness and weight that will surely see them remaining a rock’n’roll mainstay. “It takes a lot for every single one of us on this side of the stage to be here, and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all of you,” says Grohl, introducing trusted finale ‘Everlong’. “For years, we always play this song instead of saying goodbye because I hope we never do.” No need for an encore, then — the Foos have only just started their next act.
Foo Fighters played:
‘No Son of Mine’
‘Learn to Fly’
‘This Is a Call’
‘Times Like These’
‘The Sky Is a Neighborhood’
‘All My Life’
‘Shame Shame’ (with Violet Grohl)
‘Rope’ (with Violet Grohl)
‘Cold Day in the Sun'(Dave Grohl solo)
‘I’ll Stick Around'(with Shane Hawkins)
‘Best of You’