By Mark Guarino
That gum-chomping, stage-stalking, joke-telling, beard-wearing, vocal-shredding rocker dude named Dave Grohl didn’t want to bum anyone out Monday, even though his music of late is his most vulnerable, interjected with political outrage and tender introspection.
But not Monday. Not before a sold-out crowd. Not when he could make opposing sides of his Allstate Arena audience shout in tandem, not when he could play meandering blues riffs on his guitar for minutes on end or coax a triangle solo out of the percussionist.
“I’m here to please every single one of you,” he said early in his 19-song, nearly two-hour set. “It’s my job.”
He does it so well he seems at times begging for a tip. Grohl, 39, has captained the Foo Fighters for 13 years now and despite some genuinely tuneful hits upon their inception, his songwriting began to show limitations not long after; Despite being one of the most amiable personalities in modern rock and a card-carrying member of Nirvana, Grohl is a songwriter who too often sounds caged by the soft/loud, slow/fast blueprint that defined the grunge era, delivering songs flavored in bubblegum but get instantly submerged in one-dimensional hard rock bluster.
As mainstream music is repopulated more with television contest winners and Disney stars than actual rock bands, Grohl faces the unfair burden of being regaled as fronting one of the last credible working bands (winners of two Grammys this month) the same time he sounds like he’s running out of ideas. Which explains the newer, welcome turns his recent music has taken, using orchestras and acoustic music to explore more mature themes.
Yet at the Allstate, Grohl wanted nothing than to distract his audience and most likely himself. He is such a dynamic personality he can get away with doing nothing but run up and down a gangway and make it look like heavy lifting.
The Foos came in two incarnations Monday: The first was a four-piece band including drummer Taylor Hawkins bassist Nate Mendel and guitarist Chris Shiflett.
The second incarnation doubled the band to eight and included reunited guitarist Pat Smear (The Germs), fiddle player Jessy Greene (The Jayhawks, Minus 5) and others. Reconvened on a smaller stage set near the back of the arena, the group played an acoustic set in name only. The opportunity for the original band to show a more dynamic side was lost: Did someone forget that to scale back the sound, you should scale back the players? The six-song, 35-minute segment looked needlessly crowded and sounded just as messy. Even Grohl looked impatient as he continually sabotaged any chance of momentum with comedic rants where there could have been music.
The original Foos sounded best on songs like “The Pretender” or “Monkeywrench,” that pack indelible pop tunefulness with blasts of heavy walls of guitars and crashing rhythm. Grohl played “Everlong” by himself before conceding to the full band near the end; Finishing the song, the band had a mission, one that was direct and, unlike the majority of this show, found a point.