Concert Review: Foo Fighters a Scream in Portland

Note: For a review of the 2018 Concrete and Gold Tour in Portland click here.

The next Foo Fighters album should be named Scream.

It would be fitting considering Dave Grohl, the founder, guitarist, lead singer and apparently all around good guy really likes to scream. Which he did on Monday in near glorious fashion to an adoring sold-out crowd at the Moda Center in Portland, OR.

In what’s billed as a 20th Anniversary Tour, Foo Fighters played 23 songs for nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes helmed by a tireless Grohl situated atop a specially designed throne, complete with a cup holder, so he could mend his right leg which he broke three months ago during a show in Sweden.

Head banging that would make Dave Mustaine proud, Grohl didn’t miss a note all evening as Foo Fighters opened with “All My Life” and one of the band’s best songs “Times Like These” which didn’t quite give the emotional tug the album version provides thanks to the aggressively sung lyrics. “Learn to Fly” featured Grohl pulling back on the screaming and slowing the song’s tempo a bit midway through really worked. “Something From Nothing” was the first of just three songs played from the new album Sonic Highways, out last year.

Grohl dreamed up his mobile “rock” throne, which looks like a steroid-infused, genetically modified cousin of the Doom Buggies at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride, while high on pain killers for his broken leg. It took its first trip down the large fret board resembling catwalk, that jetted out into the general admission floor crowd, for “Pretender” much to the delight of everyone who got even more boisterous when he stood up for a bit. “Pretender” was one of many songs to get extra time with a longer impromptu like arrangement from the band.

The slower tempo given to “Big Me” helped show off Grohl’s actual singing voice  and then it was on to the fantastic “Congregation” from Sonic Highways and finally “Walk” before a really long drawn out band introduction featuring snippets of songs from other artists which unfortunately foreshadowed what was to come.

With the introductions out of the way, Foo Fighters ripped into “Cold Day in the Sun” sung very well by drummer Taylor Hawkins and the crowd and radio favorite “My Hero””which got things rocking. Two more from 2011” Wasting Light with the punk infused “White Limo” – just an all-out Grohl scream fest – worked surprisingly well live and they killed it on the rather melodic “Arlandria” incorporating an all-out jam.

The final new song of the night “Outside” featured what was probably the first guitar solo ever played on a walking cast boot.  The song didn’t resonate well overall thanks to the guitars and drums drowning Grohl’s vocals and mudding the melody a bit – just way too loud – but the boot solo more than made up for it.  Grohl dedicated “Breakout” to dads driving minivans and the crowd didn’t let up for “This is a Call” the first tract off the band’s debut album, 20 years ago.

The very obscure “Hey, Johnny Park!” came courtesy of an audience member call-out followed by one of the band’s most popular songs “Monkey Wrench” both off 1997’s The Colour And The Shape the band’s second album. Then came the covers.

Queen’s “Under Pressure” indeed rocked and Grohl even got that falsetto down but he kept urging the crowd to ask for more covers which ended up as three straight Van Halen songs “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” sung by Hawkins who sounded very much like the other Dave, “Panama” and “You Really Got Me” which technically isn’t Van Halen’s but they made it popular.

Why an established band insists on playing someone else’s material makes little sense. Foo Fighters have a strong catalog of songs and besides what’s with playing just three songs off the new record? Not even “Subterranean” made the setlist, a song Grohl said was inspired by the end of Nirvana, you know, that band he used to play drums on.

Grohl is one of the best ambassadors, if not the ambassador for rock music right now, but Sonic Highways felt dismissed rather than promoted. Grohl is clearly proud of that record; he even went so far as to produce a documentary series about its production. And, um, the concert ticket says “Foo Fighters” not Van Halen. That band visited the Portland area a few months ago and if we wanted to hear their songs, then we’d go see them.

If the attempt here is to pay some type of homage to the past then here’s an idea: Grohl should switch places with Hawkins and they play one Nirvana song. Perhaps “You Know You’re Right” the last complete song recorded by Nirvana in the same studio that Foo Fighters also got its start. Epic.

Foo Fighters finally got back to business closing out the show with a very cool rendition of “Best of You” and ending the evening with a Grohl favorite in “Everlong.” And no silly encore! Not that it would make sense having Grohl gimping off stage and then back on.

In many respects, Grohl’s charisma makes the show. He’s funny and when he calls out random members of the audience has offers little, if any, filter. He comes across as everybody’s favorite but crazy uncle who enjoys salty language but the difference is he’s not a deadbeat. Instead of sitting on the couch at home mindlessly strumming a guitar and milking his injury, he’s sitting in front of a sold-out arena firing off guitar chords for nearly three hours. Earlier in the show he said he likes to talk and that’s true, but he loves to play and he really loves to play for an audience.

“I can do this sh** all night long,” he said.

Foo Fighters second ever live show (but first in a major city) was held in Portland at the now extinct Satyricon, something Grohl seemed to recall fondly when he introduced “Big Me.” Grohl said opening act The Presidents of the United States of America blew them off the stage that night. But it had been seven years since the band visited the Rose City which perhaps explains why a large majority of those in attendance were seeing Foo Fighters for the first time.

It’s Grohl’s band but it’s not all about him as he described Hawkins as the missing link. Watching him pound away with that permanent grimace is almost as fun as watching the front man. Grohl is also flanked by two adept guitar players in Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear. Bassist Nate Mendel does indeed keep the funk in the chunk of the Foo Fighters but not really sure the need for the touring keyboardist because the synths had no chance against the hard charging rock of three guitars and Hawkins merciless drumming.

Grohl doesn’t seem to tire, ever, and watching him play, sitting down while nursing a broken leg is a testament to his virtuosity and really something to watch. It takes skills to play the way he does when healthy but a totally different skill set to play sitting down with a handcuff around your leg.

There’s no doubt Foo Fighters can celebrate 30 years or even 40 years however eventually he’s going to have to take a different approach to song writing. Not only did he scream through most of the songs, and no not screamo, he screamed even when he didn’t have to, and often screamed when addressing the crowd. It’s comical at times and somehow he made it through an entire show without losing his voice.

Sure, maybe it’s his trademark not to mention how ironic that he joined a punk band named Scream prior to his stint with Nirvana, (hey – the new aptly album named would bring him full circle) but he’s got a good vocal range when actually singing and a great voice. The scream fest takes a bit off the listening pleasure that so many of Foo Fighter songs bring and as far as longevity, he won’t have those chops in 10 years.

Foo Fighters Portland (Moda Center) Setlist:

  1. All My Life
  2. Times Like These
  3. Learn To Fly
  4. Something From Nothing
  5. Pretender
  6. Big Me
  7. Congregation
  8. Walk
  9. Cold Day in the Sun
  10. My Hero
  11. White Limo
  12. Arlandria
  13. Outside
  14. Breakout
  15. This is a Call
  16. Hey, Jonny Park
  17. Monkey Wrench
  18. Under Pressure
  19. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love
  20. Panama
  21. You Really Got Me
  22. Best of You
  23. Everlong