Published Jul 11, 2018In the lead-up to the release of the Foo Fighters' ninth studio album, last year's ambitious and ostentatious magnum rock opus Concrete and Gold, the band teased it as an album where "hard rock extremes and pop sensibilities collide," which was kind of an odd statement.
That's because, since their beginnings as the self-recorded solo project of Dave Grohl following the demise of Nirvana, Foo Fighters have always seemed proud of their duality, repping their punk roots one second (and featuring former members of No Use for a Name and the Germs) while indulging in rock'n'roll clichés the next (i.e. laser light shows, Flying V guitars, and practically every scene from drummer Taylor Hawkins' episode of MTV Cribs).
Both sides of the Foo Fighters were on full display Tuesday night in Ottawa, as the band delivered a mammoth 22-song set that found them often stretching the classics past three times their original runtime, playing bloated tracks with absolute precision, and fully making up for their ten-year absence from the nation's capital in the process.
Before their set began, it wasn't odd to find beer lines stretching the width of the festival grounds and around information booths. So when Grohl growled "are you ready?" moments into their opening song, "All My Life," the answer, in many people's heads, was probably "No."
Frankly, the energy from the crowd — supposedly the largest of the 2018 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest thus far — wasn't up to snuff. Neither was Grohl, whose voice sounded a little hoarse, having played Festival d'été de Québec the night before (a grand makeup date after their last appearance got rained out). "Learn to Fly" didn't soar the way it normally would, and "The Sky Is a Neighborhood" fell short (despite the unexpected presence of Grohl's young daughter as a backup singer, and especially when sandwiched between such electric renditions of late-career standouts "The Pretender" and "Rope").
But things started to pick up after "My Hero," despite the crowd's lackluster sing-along, with Grohl sharing a heartfelt moment, pausing to shed a tear, during "These Days," and then breaking the tension with a playful medley of other people's hits.
Over the past year, the band have been spicing up their introductions with a set of covers that show off their skills (or rock'n'roll roots). For guitarist Pat Smear, it's the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop"; for Hawkins, it's a bit of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and, later, "Under Pressure"; and for touring keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Rami Jaffee, it's a mashup of the music to John Lennon's "Imagine" with the lyrics of Van Halen's "Jump" (trust me, it's way better than it sounds.) But they switched thing up for their Ottawa visit, with Chris Shiflett and company ripping through a mostly improvised blues number in honour of the festival's namesake (apparently they spent the previous night practicing the progression) to start things off, and Nate Mendel leading the way on Concrete and Gold standout "La Dee Da" (its first appearance on the current North American leg of their tour) midway through the medley.
As the show progressed, Grohl increasingly shouted out the longtime fans of the band, dedicating hits like "Monkey Wrench" and "Breakout" to the older folks in the audience. The sing-alongs, as I'm coming to notice at a lot of Ottawa concerts, were pretty stale. But by the time it came to the night's encore came, with many fairweather fans having already left the field, only the diehards remained, belting it out along with Grohl to "Big Me," with the frontman prefacing the track by pointing out the serendipitous energy he and Ottawa native Alanis Morissette, who actually introduced Grohl to Hawkins when the drummer was still in her band, share. (They both sported pigtails in iconic videos during the early to mid-'90s.)
The energy remained palpable for the political "Times Like These," before fully boiling over for closer "Everlong," which got the biggest crowd response of the night.
"If you come back, I'll come back," Grohl told the crowd as a sort of promise that it wouldn't be another decade before they returned.
Judging by the happy faces spilling out into the streets after the show, they'll certainly be back.