England’s the Joy Formidable opened the show with a brief pop-rock wall of fuzz and mood (if you missed the band that celebrity musicians like Grohl have been buzzing about for months, it headlines Amos’ Southend Dec. 1). Punk granddads Social Distortion, who Grohl said were an early influence on him, turned in a mix of new songs and old favorites like “Bad Luck” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The sound quality for their set was some of the best I’ve heard in the arena.
Grohl, in black pants and a button-up shirt, seemed to feel it from the get-go. The intensity -- running down the aisle to a platform nearer to the cheaper seats -- even made modern-rock standards that you’ve heard a zillion times like “My Hero” seem fresh. As the audience beckoned the sentiment of the song back to him, you knew Grohl, at least for the moment, was theirs.
“Arlandria,” an exercise in dynamics, was rather epic for a four-minute rock song that’s not even a single. “These Days,” which Grohl called his favorite, was another newer standout. The new songs went over as well as the old, although as Grohl noted after polling the crowd, Foo Fighters have upped its number of fans in the past four years. “Where have you been for the last 16 years?” he asked those who had not seen the band live before. He sarcastically moaned about rock stardom and about having people like his band (I couldn’t help but think of Nirvana at that moment) before launching into “Cold Day.”
Despite his apparent glee in the power he held over the crowd, he still came off as a relatable guy, putting on a fun and extremely professional show. Ticket prices weren’t astronomical. T-shirts were $25 (I’ve seen less popular acts sell them at The Fillmore for $40). And Grohl was funny and open, especially during the solo acoustic encore, when he talked about buying a house near Nags Head with his first Nirvana paycheck. I never noticed the presence of a guitar tech (or really anyone else besides the band on stage) shuffling an impressive collection of axes on and off stage. Grohl played the blue signature model he premiered during the band's 2007 tour for the first nine songs without retuning -- an impressive feat in itself given the workout he gave the instrument. He pulled out a blue Firebird model for the stoner-y intro to “Stacked Actors,” which morphed into a goofy guitar-solos duel between Grohl and guitarist Chris Shiflett.
He promised a long show, and although it wasn’t the 30-plus-song marathon I saw Guns n’ Roses deliver in Greenville last week, it clocked in at the two-hour and 40-minute mark. There were a few surprises. The group revisited its cover of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh,” which it did with Roger Waters in September for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’s” “The Wall” tribute. It closed its set with “All My Life.” Grohl returned for three solo acoustic numbers: “Wheels,” “Best of You,” and “Times Like These,” each performed on the platform at the far end of the arena. Then “Dear Rosemary,” with the full band, morphed into Tom Petty’s live jam “Breakdown.” But it was “Everlong” -- a song Shinedown guitarist Zach Myers called this generation’s “Stairway to Heaven” last week when covering it at his own show -- that served as the final hurrah.
Learn to Fly
Let it Die
This is a Call
In the Flesh
All My Life
Best of You
Times Like These