Now more than a year removed from the tragic death of drummer Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters return this summer with a heap of headlining festival gigs spanning four continents. Bonnaroo, Boston Calling and Riot Fest are all on the stateside docket, as are Japan’s Fuji Rock, Germany’s Rock AM Ring and a pair of monster performances in Brazil.
The roadshow will feature Josh Freese, well-traveled session and touring vet (Weezer, Nine Inch Nails), on the kit, as the band confirmed during a streaming event Sunday. The schedule kicks off Wednesday, May 24, in Gilford, New Hampshire. As Dave Grohl and company soldier on, celebrating one of the most successful rock careers of the last 30 years — plus the upcoming June 2 release of their bittersweet 11th album But Here We Are — it’s time to get nerdy with the Foos’ hit-filled catalog.
Sure, there are the dozen or more raging standards every fan expects at a Foo Fighters show, but what about the rest of the rather prolific songbook — the stuff that holds up but doesn’t always make it to stage? And of course, as the band has consistently dropped worthy records since its debut in ‘95, there’s value in the newer cuts, too.
With all of this taken into consideration, we’ve devised what would make for the most epic Foo Fighters concert that could possibly exist in 2023, showcasing where they’ve been, who they are and where they’re going. This crop of tunes caters to fans both casual and deeply committed and delivers some deserved surprises.
While this list of 24 songs may run a bit longer than the average Foo Fighters festival set — we’d clock this in between two and two-and-a-half hours — few bands are better at blasting past their sky-high expectations. Also, it’s our dream set and we do what we want. Let’s break it down!
Unlikely circumstances call for an unlikely beginning. The show kicks off not with fury but with Grohl solo at center stage. Single spotlight, single guitar, band waiting in the wings. He begins “Doll,” the wistful prelude from 1997’s fan-beloved The Colour and the Shape, strumming it live for the first time since 2003. The first verse takes on new meaning: “You know in all of the time that we’ve shared, I’ve never been so scared/ Doll me up in my bad luck, I’ll meet you there.” Thousands of men in backward baseball caps cry like children.
“Times Like These”
Grohl finishes, shakes a tear from his scruff and the band trots out. Grohl hammers his dissonant chords, yells his requisite “alright, you motherf–kers!” and Freese hits his kit — kick-kick-snare. All bets are off, as the band flies through its first of many monster-rock anthems of the night. It’s a new chapter for the band and it’s gonna be a good one.
A classic early-set favorite, keeping the tone light and energy high, as fans of a certain age think fondly upon the days of Guitar Hero II and nailing that big, bright melody 15 times in a row.
“No Way Back”
Another deep-ish cut; a fan favorite from 2005’s In Your Honor (overshadowed by the runaway success of “Best of You” at the time). It’s the first time the Foos have jammed it on stage in 15 years, and diehards roar as soon as they place the rollicking riff.
Grohl and Co. take a breather as the frontman properly addresses the crowd for the first time. He calls them “motherf–kers” at least three more times, mentions how great it is to be back and how music heals all wounds. He then asks the crowd “will you motherf–kers run for your life with me?” before swinging into the lead single off 2017’s Concrete and Gold, which starts slow but builds to loud, shouty punk mayhem in due time. A few fans try to mosh, most wouldn’t dare; they have to be in the office on Monday.
The new lead single from the band’s upcoming LP tugs at the heartstrings as the crowd shouts with Dave “are you feeling … what I’m feeling?!” The song slots in easily with crunchy, fun guitars and a towering chorus — it’s as Foo Fighter-y a single as the band has released in its last few cycles (no shade to Medicine at Midnight; it was fine).
“Learning to Fly”
Fans are rewarded with a world-beater, which the band typically slips in earlier than later in sets, saving the more dramatic sing-alongs for later. “Fly” is all summer breeze and looking for the sky to save you. A few cans of Michelob Ultra are heaved heavenward, floating across the festival in triumph.
“Long Road to Ruin”
The second single off 2007’s Echoes — generally forgotten by casual fans, well-loved by diehards — was a set staple until about 2015 then lopped off in favor of newer tunes. But no more! “Long Road” is back, longtime guitarist Chris Shiflett nails the solo and all is well.
Another quintessential “oh yeah, this song!” from the Foos’ catalog — even though they’ve played it consistently since its release almost 25 years ago. “Breakout” is a good time, almost pop-punk in its speed and sentiment.
Grohl pauses again, hurls a few more warm expletives over the crowd of tens of thousands, and asks rhetorically how many fans remember 2011’s Wasted Light album — everyone cheers for what might’ve been the last truly great Foo Fighters album. The nerdiest fans tell their friends how the album was recorded in Grohl’s garage and it was their first to tap Butch Vig as producer, the drummer for Garbage who famous produced Nirvana’s Nevermi— the song mercifully kicks in, the chorus is killer, the geeks are silenced.
The Wasted Light suite rambles on for two more tracks, first another winner in “These Days,” with Grohl’s excellently serrated hook: “Easy for you to say, your heart has never been broken/ Your pride has never been stolen, not yet, not yet!”
One more, the most anthemic of the bunch, laid over an opening guitar riff that sounds a whole lot like Tal Bachman’s “She’s So High.” Then the heavy chug swoops in as the crowd croons “I believe I’ve waited long enough.” The track builds to its incendiary finish: “I never wanna die, I never wanna die, I’m on my knees, I never wanna die!” Catharsis abounds.
“This is a Call”
Grohl takes it all the way back, to the first album, the first single, the first track any early adopters of the Foo Fighters ever heard. It still plays like a McCartney-meets-Cobain pop-grunge banger (as does so much of Grohl’s songbook).
“Hey, Johnny Park!” (acoustic)
The romp slows down for a while here. Grohl, Smear and Shiflett grab acoustic guitars. Freese leaves the main kit for a smaller set-up. Maybe there’s a cajon. God, let there be a cajon. The band gets closer, a tight semi-circle for a 15-minute, stripped down mini-set, beginning with a fan favorite off Colour, which has rarely (if ever) gotten the three-guitar, acoustic-chug treatment. Warm lamps light the stage, it’s a vibe.
They pivot to this deeper cut, included as a promo single for the 2009 Greatest Hits compilation. The new arrangement gives the Tom Petty-ish cut an almost countrified lean. More cursory fans run to the beer tents and port-a-Johns. Hey, every set needs a bathroom moment!
“Big Me” (acoustic)
The stakes raise a little with “Big Me,” a well-loved sing-songy stalwart off the 1995 debut, which is basically a Beatles song and in this unassuming setting feels like a Foos version of Get Back. It’s unclear who Lennon is in this scenario.
“Waiting on a War” (acoustic into full band)
The night’s lone cut from Medicine is used as a brilliant transition back to mega-rock spectacle, as the tune natural builds from humble beginnings to a very “Free Bird”-like jam session, as the rest of the band plugs back in and goes off, dueling short solos — a tech tosses Grohl his Gibson just in time for the final, piercing notes.
It’s all gravy from here on out. Grohl is merely a vessel for perspiration as he hammers his guitar, screaming “What if I say I’m not like the others?!” The audience barks back, happily relinquishing use of their vocal chords for the next 48 hours.
Remember last fall, when Taylor Hawkins’ 16-year-old son, Shane, emerged during his father’s tribute concert to play “My Hero”? Well, the teen beast is back again, trotting out for a guest spot in dad’s honor, as the crowd cheers (between heaving sobs). Shane crushes the song, the night’s biggest moment so far, as the chorus reaches Earth’s thermosphere. Even the security guards are singing along. And somewhere better, Hawkins is smiling.
“Everlong” (with “February Stars” intro)
Shane jogs off, 20,000 dads use their t-shirts as handkerchiefs and the band finishes the main set with its calling card — but with a twist! They begin with a few telling lines from “February Stars,” which precedes “Everlong” on the album. Solo and sad, Grohl whispers: “Watched you come and go/ How was I to know/ You’d steal the show.” Before most fans even realize what’s happening and how special a moment it is to hear the snippet (the band hasn’t played it live since ‘06), the familiar riff begins. Then the second, louder guitar. And it’s alt-rock euphoria. Dave bless us, everyone.
ENCORE: “All My Life”
The stage darkens, the band leaves, Grohl discards his sweat-soaked black tank-top for an identical black tank-top. They return to a roar, but the lights stay down. Then you hear it: “da-da-da, da-da-da,” that unmistakable riff. “All my life I’ve been searchin’ for something, something never comes, never leads to nothing…” It’s very loud and it’s freaking awesome. “Done! I’m done! And I’m on to the next!”
ENCORE: “The Colour and the Shape”
The band stays heavy — as heavy as they’ve ever been — on the mostly screamed, garage-punk title track, performed live for the first time since ‘98. New fans don’t know it and that’s okay, the dudes who’ve been on the Foos train since the Clinton administration become feral.
ENCORE: “Live-in Skin”
One more gem for the true fans, who will forever be able to say they saw the first-ever live rendition of “Live-in Skin,” an awesome album track from 99’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose, which has developed a sort of mystique on the Foo Fighters subreddits, mainly for its scarcity. “I’m amazed that I’m still standing” Grohl sings in the hook, the lyric meaning so much more now.
ENCORE: “Best of You”
Grohl slugs down a beer, thanks the gigantic crowd for sticking with his band of misfits for nearly 30 years and shouts, “Oh, and one last thing — I GOT ANOTHER CONFESSION TO MAKE!” One more titanic sing-along for the road, as the song extends with extra guitar breaks and the fireworks boom above. The shrewder fans book it for the parking lot, all but floating on their high of witnessing one of the last monster-rock bands unleash the set of their lives — and find redemption in tragedy.
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