It's safe to assume that Dave Grohl hasn't felt the drip of condensation from a sweating rock club air vent for a long time, but that wasn't the case Friday night when the Foo Fighters set up shop at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. and refused to leave.
With the release of Sonic Highways just a couple of weeks away, the Foos have started to spring up in cities that inspired their "musical map of America" as the HBO series detailing the creation of the record drives through the track list. They went to Chicago to play the Cubby Bear, and "Something for Nothing" in particular, the track they wrote there with Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick in the Windy City and the first off Sonic Highways. The venue choice was small and calculated as Grohl popped his concert-going cherry back in the day at a Naked Raygun show, and they proceeded to plow through a 22-song set list featuring a brief taste of the new stuff along with the predictable slew of tried-and-true favorites.
In D.C., the Foo Fighters upped the ante on both the performance and personal fronts: Grohl grew up just outside our nation's capital in Springfield, Virginia, and was obsessed with Fugazi, Bad Brains, Minor Threat and the wealth of punk screaming out of the D.C. music scene in the Eighties. It was a no brainer, then, for the Foos to head to the iconic Inner Ear Studios to work with Don Zientara, the producer who brought all of the records Grohl cites as pivotal influences into being. The raw and driving "The Feast and the Famine," Sonic Highways' second track, serves as Zientara's (and Washington's) contribution to the project, but the song's punk pulse needed a proper debut—and that's where the Black Cat came in.
Though the Foo Fighters totally could've taken to the nearest arena, sold it out and thrown a multi-night run into the mix, they kept it small and perfect with a crowd of a couple hundred people in the low-ceilinged bar with that drippy vent. After screening the D.C. episode of Sonic Highways, the band took to the stage promptly at 11, and what followed can only be described as three hours of pure, unadulterated awesome.
It was awesome when "Something From Nothing" segued seamlessly into "The Pretender," and the hope that we weren't just getting a play through the record morphed into a deafening reality. It was awesome when Taylor Hawkins traded drumsticks with Grohl for a second for a cover of Cheap Trick's "Stiff Competition," thus taking the mic and sending Grohl to the kit. It was awesome when Grohl spent a good five minutes talking about driving a mini van and griping about how his daughters are totally mercurial snackers who love apple slices one minute and request blue corn tortilla chips the next for their bag lunches. It was awesome when "My Hero," "Learn To Fly," "Walk," "Cold Day In The Sun" and "Weenie Beenie" inspired mini mosh pits and haphazard attempts at crowdsurfing despite the nearness of the Black Cat's ceiling and the close quarters. (Grohl screaming "SOMEBODY CALL AN UBER!" upon fielding a hammered crowdsurfer was a great moment as well.)
It was awesome when the guys of RDGLDGRN joined them onstage to chop up "Monkey Wrench," and awesome when the exhausted band couldn't keep their insane frontman from galloping deeper into their catalog. When Grohl started recalling keggers in Springfield and whipping out his best Rolling Stones ("Miss You") and Bowie and Queen ("Under Pressure") covers, he was twenty songs into a set and showed no signs of stopping. (A sample of the back-and-forth: Grohl: "How ya feelin, Taylor?" Hawkins: "I feel 42, man." Groh: "Well I feel forty-f*ckin'-five and I feel great!") The evening had to wind down at some point, and thirty songs later, "Big Me," "The Best of You" and "Everlong" made for the perfect three-volley finale. See? Awesome, start to finish, snack chat, covers and all.
If the Foo Fighters' return to D.C. teaches us anything, it's that you can go home again and bring it with you when you leave. They may be the only band out there who can return to their small-club roots to celebrate the sounds and the furies that constructed the chords within them without a shred of artifice, and how they're still so excited to revisit old favorites while blasting through new ones is part of the reason why they can make an informed and innovative record like Sonic Highways in the first place. The fact that fans got to see "The Feast and the Famine" in the perfect place was just icing on the cake. That dedication to the whole picture—the time, the place, the vibe, the people in the room—doesn't just inspire awe and admiration through music. It redefines it, and that's what makes Sonic Highways and the small club shows it inspires so definitively awesome.
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