Foo Fighters @ The Ryman
October 31, 2014
The night began with a screening of the Nashville episode of the “Sonic Highways” series that can be seen on HBO Friday nights. The episode started out with Dave Grohl speaking about how Nashville is an incredible historically rich musical city, and everyone cheered with pride. It showed Dave playing at the Bluebird and the band working on their Nashville inspired song at Zac Brown’s recording studio Southern Ground. Many guests graced the screen like Dolly Parton, Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Carrie Underwood, and Emmylou Harris, all telling their stories of Nashville and setting the mood for a magical night. I caught myself getting so caught up in the show that I would forget where I was, only to have my heart start beating faster every time I remembered that I was about to see Foo Fighters perform live the episode ended.
After the premiere, the lights dimmed and the Foo Fighters walked on the stage sporting full corpse face paint, which only added to their already insane, bursting energy. They opened with “All My Life,” and the crowd energy slowly came to life, seeming to be born with the slow build-up of the song as it climbed to the explosive chorus. The band rocked “I’ll Stick Around,” “Rope,” and then “The Pretender” without a pause, then Dave finally broke out of his playing-trance to laugh and say “Oh hello, Nashville. I haven’t even greeted you yet, have I?”
He introduced the rest of the Foo Fighters, bantering with every member, allowing the crowd to feel like they were a part of the family by being let in on some of the inside jokes. During Chris Shiflett’s introduction Dave said that he was the “only one in the Foo Fighters who actually knew how to play guitar,” and when it came to Nate Mendel to play a bass solo he joked, “No, I haven’t practiced today, or ever…” Pat Smear picked up his champagne and proceeded to slide the bottle on the guitar in his right hand, bringing it and the guitar to his mouth to drink it as he kept playing. Drummer Taylor Hawkins never stopped smiling all night; his grin made you feel the genuine happiness that he constantly emanated, especially during the instances when Dave turned around to face him and share an unspoken conversation, laughing and jamming together, enjoying every second.
Foo Fighters played “My Hero” next, pausing in the middle to let every person in the crowd sing the chorus together a cappella, creating an incredible, passion-filled sing along that filled the auditorium. After the song, Dave began taking off his shoes and socks, saying he rarely plays a gig barefoot, but that he didn’t think he’d ever get the opportunity to feel the energy and history of Nashville beneath his feet the same way again, and then immediately went into “Learn To Fly.” Everyone in the crowd seemed to need to pinch themselves and ask their neighbors, “Is this really happening?” after the barrage of their favorite hits one after another. The awe-struck, wide-eyed, kid-on-Christmas-morning look on everyone’s faces lasted all night, making strangers bond over this once in a lifetime concert they were all experiencing together, and it was extraordinary.
Foo Fighters kept the energy high with “White Limo” and then went right into “Arlandria” sparking another group sing-along. By this point, Tammy and I had made our way up to the front where everyone was dancing and jumping, so we really got to lose ourselves during these lively, fast-paced songs that left Dave head-banging, screaming into the microphone, and running across the stage bursting with intensity.
They slowed it down with “Cold Day in The Sun” followed by their new Chicago-inspired single “Something from Nothing.” “Generator” came next, then “Walk,” flying across the years and spanning their arsenal from their newest work off “Wasting Light” all the way back to their first self-titled album. Midway through the concert Dave brought out his first special guest, Tony Joe White, and they jammed to “Polk Salad Annie” with Tony singing, playing harmonica, and shredding on the guitar, showing exactly why he is a legend. After Tony left the stage, they brought the whole crowd back to the edge of madness by playing “Monkey Wrench” and “Hey! Johnny Park.” Immediately after, Dave asked Taylor if he could play the drums so Taylor hopped on the microphone and began singing and dancing in his Hawaiian swim trunks and his “I believe in Nashville” shirt while Dave transformed into a different being behind the kit playing Cheap Trick’s “Stiff Competition,” still shoeless.
Dave took a minute to apologize for the ticketing fiasco he had heard about earlier in the day, hoping that everyone who bought a ticket was able to be there that night, and promising to be back at a larger venue for all the fans that weren’t able to score tickets. He then talked to the crowd about the next song, telling them that back in 9th grade he didn’t sing it well enough to win the talent show, but that he was going to give it another shot. In the middle of the song Dave asked for the lights to be dimmed, allowing everyone to forget their sense of sight and take in the concert for what it was: live, raw, true music meant to be experienced throughout the entire soul, not just as a show on a stage. And in that moment I shut my eyes and soaked everything in. I listened to the beautifully detailed, separate intricacies of each instrument that somehow all came together as one monumental sound; I felt the ominous energy of the auditorium reverberate off every nerve in my body. Every trouble in the world escaped from reality, and all that remained was the drug-like feeling the power of the pure, unadulterated music created. Dave laughed when the song ended and the lights came back up, exclaiming, “I don’t know what the Thomas Jefferson High 9th grade talent show would say, but I think we just won that performance.”
Next came Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talking Bout Love” cover where Taylor not only kept an impressive drum beat going but also sang lead vocals throughout the whole song, showing off his remarkable skill set. Without delay Foo Fighters rocked out to Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” Towards the middle of the song, the whole crowd began clapping along to the drum beat, and slowly the band stopped playing, leaving only Dave’s soft, alluring guitar combined with the monstrous sound of the audience producing the heartbeat of the song. Dave continued to play for what seemed like minutes, allowing the crowd to be his band. I watched multiple times as Taylor tried to muster up the ability to hit his drums again, but each time he just shook his head and watched with wide, amazed eyes as the crowd kept the song alive. The band slowly came back in, and Taylor picked up his sticks to play a small drum roll on the cymbals, snapping Dave and the crowd back into reality, ending the song. Dave laughed, saying that the jam session was a slippery slope and to be warned because he could literally do that all night.
They broke out of the peaceful calm by playing “Best of You,” bringing the whole crowd back to singing along and jumping around. Then Dave told the crowd about his run-in with a fan earlier who asked, “You’re not going to play ‘For the Cows’ are you?” He responded saying the best part of being in the Foo Fighters is that they can play whatever the f**k they wanted, and commenced to play “For the Cows.” During the next song, “Weenie Beenie,” Dave paused to laughingly yell at Taylor for always sneaking in the cowbell, and Taylor continued to annoy Dave throughout the night, throwing in the cowbell whenever he could, like during their live premiere of the Nashville-inspired song “Congregation” and even during Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” which they played with Zac Brown on vocals creating marvelous experience in itself. Nobody in the crowd will ever forget the night they saw the Foo Fighters play Sabbath with Zac Brown in full death-metal face paint. After a hug with Zac and another round of applause, Dave thanked the crowd, promised they would be back to this amazing city again, and at the two AM-three hour mark, began playing the last song of the night, “Everlong.” The entire night’s energy culminated in the last song; the crowd came together for one final sing along, and when it ended everyone cheered for minutes, too awestruck at what they just experienced to even be sad the show was over.
This was the show that decades from now you will still hear people talking about; about how they spent their Halloween of 2014 at the Ryman with about 2300 other lucky strangers who somehow scored tickets (Tammy swears she is a wizard for being able to get two), experiencing the Foo Fighters playing for three straight hours all while being in one of the most historic buildings in Nashville. That crowd got to hear songs that Foo Fighters rarely play live, and they got to experience magical energy that could only be conjured up in an intimate, historic place like the Ryman. Those 2300 people in attendance, Tammy and myself included, will never be the same.