Live Review: Foo Fighters and Year Long Disaster at Red Rocks

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Foo Fighters, with Year Long Disaster September 8, 2008 Red Rocks

Earlier this summer, in a review of KTCL's Big Gig, I confessed to having underrated the Offspring simply because the band's been so damned consistent and reliable for so long. Ditto that for the Foo Fighters. In my preview of the act's September 8 Red Rocks gig -- the first of two shows rescheduled from July, when leader Dave Grohl lost his voice -- I noted that the outfit's never made a bad album in its decade-plus of existence, but neither has it issued a CD guaranteed to slacken jaws from start to finish -- and that remains the case. But Grohl and company astutely took the best tracks from each of those discs and played them back to back to back with a good-humored aggressiveness that was as impressive as it was enjoyable.

Opening the show on a cool but not yet frigid night in the foothills was Year Long Disaster, an L.A.-based power trio led by guitarist/vocalist Daniel Davies; Kinks guitar pioneer Dave Davies and lead Kink Ray Davies are his father and uncle, respectively. Yet Daniel, bassist Rich Mullins and drummer Brad Hargreaves hardly come across like the Village Green Preservation Society. Instead, they specialize in a sped-up brand of boogie that suggests '70s blues rock with a case of ADD. Daniel's stage moves made it clear that he's spent years studying classic-rock frontman: He marched, strutted and spasmed in a highly theatrical manner while peeling off leads so fiery that they were capable of giving George Hamilton a sunburn.

As for his singing, he affected a strangulated yowl that made his dad's unpolished vocals seem positively Pavarotti-esque in comparison. The noises he emitted approximated English-language syllables without ever coalescing into understandable words -- a corollary to the three-piece's material, which was more akin to random riff collections than actual songs. ("It Ain't Luck," the group's most fully formed effort, proved an exception to this rule.) Year Long Disaster's energy kept the crowd engaged throughout -- a testimony to Daniel's showmanship. But without a tuneage upgrade, these guys will find it difficult to break out of the opening-act ghetto.

Not so Foo Fighters, who I hadn't seen live since way back in April 1995, prior to the release of their debut long-player, when Grohl filled the middle-of-the-bill slot in support of former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt during a boutique gig at the Mercury Cafe. (Read that long-lost review by clicking here.) Back then, the Foo consisted of Grohl, ex-Germs guitarist and Nirvana sideman Pat Smear on guitar, plus bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, then best known as members of the Sub Pop band Sunny Day Real Estate. Today, Smear remains, but in more of a guest star role -- Chris Shiflett shoulders the bulk of the guitar duties -- and Mendel's still in the fold as well. Also on hand: keyboardist Rami Jaffee, percussionist Drew Hester, violinist/cellist/vocalist Jessy Greene and the Foo's not-so-secret weapon, drummer/vocalist Taylor Hawkins, who anchors the band and spurs Grohl with frequent prods from his busy sticks.

The result was the most amphitheater-ready lineup Grohl's ever fronted, and he used its collected power to his advantage from the opening moments. "Let It Die," "The Pretender," "Times Like These" and "Learn to Fly" served as an inspirational one-two-three-four punch, with Grohl alternately wailing, slashing and exhorting the crowd with a vitality that hasn't ebbed with the years. That was followed by "Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up is Running)," a lesser-known track from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Bands generally pull out such pace-changers to bring the crowd down, but in this case, the strength of the song, an overlooked gem, and Grohl's manic enthusiasm, prevented anyone in the packed house from even thinking about taking a seat.

This phenomenon was repeated after Grohl pulled out an acoustic guitar -- typically a signal to any veteran concert-goer to hit the head or order another beer. His version of "My Hero," a composition that always struck me as a bit forced and self-conscious, improved on the original by adding dynamics and a sense of subtlety that's not always present in the recorded version, and "But Honestly" avoided the treacly trap many heart-barers fall into thanks to a robust melody and a boisterous conclusion that prefigured another tempo increase -- and more exuberance, too. The outfit's rendition of "Monkey Wrench" had more false endings than The Return of the King, but no one minded a bit.

As the years have gone on, Grohl's fondness for the same sort of '70s rock worshipped by Year Long Disaster has become clearer, and he demonstrated it with a crazed version of The Who's "Young Man Blues" that updated the Live at Leeds scorcher for a new (or at least newer) generation and a snippet of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" that found its way into an extended "Stacked Actor." But rather than seeming aloof, as did a lot of the era's frontmen, Grohl comes across as funny and approachable during his regular conversations with the audience. He sometimes lets his mouth get ahead of his brain: He told the throng that in order to make up for the date's postponement, the Fighters would play until audience members got sick of them, which wasn't even close to happening by the set's end, just over two hours hence. But his introductions of the band's members were practically worth the price of admission alone -- loved Hester's rockin' triangle solo -- and so was his anti-Mentos rant prior to a dialed down take on "Big Me" that found him dueting with Greene.

As the masses shouted along with "Best of You," the ecstatic show ender, I couldn't help reflecting on Grohl's unlikely career. After Kurt Cobain perforated his cranial cavity, no one expected anything of him, and no wonder: He was known simply as Nirvana's drummer, not a singer, songwriter or guitarist. Predicting that he'd have a lengthy career as a group leader would have been like expecting solo stardom from Mitch Mitchell or John Densmore after Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison shuffled off this mortal coil. Nevertheless, he's achieved exactly that, and he's done so with something akin to casualness. His easy manner probably has a lot to do with people like me taking him for granted. But no more -- not after this show. -- Michael Roberts

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