REVIEW / PHOTOS – Foo Fighters @ Gwinnett Arena, Atlanta 11/7/11

I’ll talk about one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen in a second, but first let me give a nod to the Foo Fighters’ first opener, The Joy Formidable, who I think is a very exciting up and coming rock band. I wrote about their set at Music Midtown a couple of months ago. Dave Grohl gave them huge props during the main show when he said the band was helping to “prove that rock ‘n roll isn’t dead”. Lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan manages to combine a seriously aggressive female stage presence with an innocent smile and some surprisingly decent guitar chops. I’m seeing this band whenever they’re in town, no question. Unfortunately this show was way outside Atlanta and I only caught their last two songs due to traffic, so no pics.

The second opener was Social Distortion. Can’t say I’m a big fan of SoCal punk rock…but the floor really filled up during their set and everyone seemed into it so I won’t knock it.

And next, we had the Foo Fighters. Let me preface all of this by admitting what a huge fan of Dave Grohl I am. Being an integral part of two of the greatest rock bands of the past 20 years, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t like him but for me it does go a little beyond that. I just respect the fact that he’s still rocking out so hard and giving it everything he has every night after 20 years.

Around 9 PM the stage lights dimmed and some panels dropped across the stage from the scaffolding, allowing the band to sneak on stage without anyone really seeing them. It was really cool to witness this process up close from the photo pit. The panels raise up, lights turn on, and Dave Grohl is 3 feet in front of me with his foot up on a stage monitor just raging on his Gibson. It was one of those moments you never forget. I managed to snap this photo.

At that point the Foo Fighters launched into “Burning Bridges” and “Rope” off their newest album followed by “The Pretender”, which really got the crowd going. They followed up with some older classics “My Hero” and “Learn to Fly”. The band took a break at this point to give Grohl the chance to schmooze the audience. Its unreal how good he is at this, and it really set up the rest of the night by getting the crowd so involved early on. He talked about their first show in Atlanta at The Masquerade, an 800 person venue in downtown Atlanta (Gwinnett Arena holds 13,000), and claimed he was going to move to Atlanta after he retired and run for mayor. What a guy.

The band got going again and played some more material of the Wasting Light album before hitting the classic “Breakout”, and then “Stacked Actors” which turned into a huge 10-minute jam complete with a guitar duel between Grohl and lead guitarist Chris Shiflett. The band had a raised platform set up on the other end of a runway that spanned the entire arena floor, so Grohl and Shiflett dueled it out from over 200 feet away with Grohl probably 20 feet higher than the stage. Fun to watch to say the least.

After running through “Monkey Wrench” for a now completely mesmerized crowd, the band played more of their Wasting Light material and then played an incredible cover of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh”. I really wasn’t expecting any covers from the Foo Fighters so this was a big surprise. They absolutely nailed it, and would continue the cover theme with another excellent choice during the encore. They then closed the set with “All My Life” and very sheepishly left the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band do the whole encore act this badly! It was like they just didn’t want to leave the stage.

The Foo Fighters encore experience is an interesting one if you haven’t seen it. The stage lights and video screens are off as usual, and then all of the sudden Dave Grohl’s face pops up on the video screen and he’s drinking a beer and smiling at the audience. There’s no sound so it makes for some funny communication as he can obviously hear the audience’s reaction. Then Grohl and drummer Taylor Walker go back and forth egging the crowd on for the number of songs they’ll play in the encore. They put up 3 fingers and see how the audience reacts, then Walker puts up 4 fingers, and Grohl points to his throat like its sore and says no way. Eventually they settle on 6 songs and all of the sudden…

Grohl pops out of the arena floor on that raised platform he used for the guitar duel earlier. With only an acoustic in hand, he says he’s going to give the “side of the arena with the s***ty seats” the attention they deserve. He went on to play acoustic versions of “Wheels”, “Best of You”, and part of “Times Like These” which transitioned into the full band and back to Grohl’s electric. It was a great example of the type of showman he is. He makes the entire audience feel like he’s genuinely happy they came to see his band, and I don’t doubt that he gives it his all every night like did on this night. How many bands do that these days?

They closed by teasing “Breakdown” by Tom Petty and then moving into the full song which I thought was a very cool choice for a cover, and then ended the show with the inevitable “Everlong”, which they stretched out into a very epic and heavy jam complete with a monster Taylor Hawkins drum solo at the end.

I actually saw people crying on the way out, and to be honest, I don’t blame them.