"I haven't played a place with a clock in front of me in a long fucking time."
So said Dave Grohl, through his neverending grin, wiping his sweaty and Park Hyatt shampoo scented heavy metal hair from his face, staring up from the tiny stage at Cubby Bear at the countdown to 1am. He led the crowd of largely middle aged dudes into a chant of "Fuck the clock! Fuck the clock!" He promised us that his Foo Fighters would "play until they make us stop," but it seemed that either HBO, who was streaming the concert, or the grubby Wrigleyville sports bar was calling it a night after two hours of giddy, nostalgic rock.
The Foo Fighters do not play venues this small. Even on the band's first tour in 1995, Grohl's renown as Nirvana's drummer booked them up the street at Metro. Last night, the Cubby Bear smelled of farts, light beer and bubblegum, not pyrotechnics and football grass, and girls in tank tops walked around serving Jell-O shots from trays. Frankly, it's a cheesy joint, famous for being catty-corner to the Cubs stadium but no longer a notable music venue. Even Grohl couched his praise in a dedication, saying, "To the most beautiful bar…on this block."
Yet the place holds a special place in Grohl's heart. It was here that he witness his first concert, 31 years ago, when his punk cousin from Evanston dragged him to see Naked Raygun. It's an anecdote he told me in a fun 2011 interview (though he got the date wrong) and one he retells in the first episode of Sonic Highways, the new HBO series chronicling the history of American music and the recording of the eighth Foo Fighters albums in eight U.S. cities.
Like I said, the night was about nostalgia, and Grohl is a lovely raconteur. I could have listened to him spin yarns all night, like the one about taking his one and only drum lesson, but instead his band tore through old Foo Fighters songs with shreddy aplomb. And some of those figures from rock & roll's past came to the stage to assist.
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, wearing his trademark cap and checkered guitar, helped in covering his band's "Stiff Competition," with Grohl on drums and drummer Taylor Hawkins playing frontman. "I have to go back to my AARP home," Nielsen said afterward, lying. He returned around 1am to thrash through power-pop classic "Surrender" in the night's high point. Producer Steve Albini, whose name remained uncrossed on the guest list, did not show up, but Grohl dedicated "Up In Arms" to him, noting, "When I sing love songs, I mean that shit, motherfuckers."
And of course Jeff Pezzati of Naked Raygun appeared to sing a cover of his 1983 snot rocket "Surf Combat," the first punk single that Grohl ever owned. The 45-year-old Grohl was visibly drunk with teenage fanboy awe at the moment. It was infectious.
My appreciation of the Foo Fighters, an act I always considered the greatest of the merely good bands, is tangled with my own punk rock education. The group itself is walking fanzine. That's Pat Smear from the Germs! When I first saw Nate Mendel with Sunny Day Real Estate in 1994, it shook my taste in music! I had Chris Shiflett stuff on Fat Wreck Chords! And that's Dave freakin' Grohl, the drummer of Nirvana, who I saw just a bit further north at Aragon in 1993, one of the greatest gigs of my life!
The Foo Fighters are an act that tries to be something to everyone—to much commercial success and sometimes middling studio results. There are nods to punk, head-bangs to metal, fists to the chests for the American heartland. Live, the band is heavy and thrashy and sweetly melodic. It sings ballads and indulges in blues jams. Their new tune is a little funky.
That being said, I tend to only pull out their first two records. Fantastic singles band, though. Funny videos. Last night, they mined a lot of gold from those initial two '90s LPs, attacking "I'll Stick Around," "Big Me," "My Hero" and "Weenie Beenie." During a long interlude in "This Is a Call," Grohl walked through the crowd, climbed on the bar with his baby blue Gibson, pointed at the tap and ordered a Budweiser.
Face to face, the Foo Fighters are impossible to dislike, inflated by the godly charm of Grohl. They are a living bridge to classic rock. He was able to let us share in his wish fulfillment, to communicate that feeling of being part of a special concert. I stifled my internal bitching at all the jerkamos holding up cellphones. They were missing the point. Who cares? Naked Raygun! Cheap Trick! Sunny Day Real Estate! The Germs! A Rolling Stones cover! Nirvana!
Fuck the clock. The passage of time didn't exist. We were all teenagers for two hours.