The fantasy birthday bash of any rock & roll lover’s wildest dreams would probably look something like the super-star spectacle Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters presented at the Forum Saturday night. David Lee Roth, Alice Cooper, Perry Farrell, Lemmy Kilmister, Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Trombone Shorty and Paul Stanley all joined in for Grohl’s surprise soiree, playing an assortment of classic rock anthems in what ended up being a voracious. nearly four-hour celebration.
Love him or hate him, Grohl is the biggest rock star of his generation, a guy with the power and means to throw a spontaneous shindig at the Forum with 17,000 of his closest friends and a line-up of living music legends coming out to jam, all for the frontman’s 46th year on earth (and for charity, with a portion of the proceeds going to Sweet Relief, MusiCares and the Rock School Scholarship Fund).
Announced early last week, Dave’s “Super Fucking Rad” Birthday Rock Show, performed “in the round,” sold out immediately, and was way beyond a concert. It’s not an overstatement to say that Saturday’s show was momentous, maybe even historic. No wonder so many people don't like the guy.
Actually, we’ve always felt that the rancor a lot of music community has thrown Grohl’s way had less to do with him and more to do with Them. The weight of Nirvana’s legacy has been a heavy burden to bear. But the Foo Fighters were never going to be Nirvana, and in many ways it makes sense that they aren’t.
Nirvana were about angst. Foo Fighters are about escaping all that and just having some kick-ass fun. Grohl was able to achieve success doing something decidedly more optimistic and accessible than his previous band, channeling his arena rock influences loudly and proudly into sweet but still ballsy, hook-filled music. Punker-than-thou types and music snobs hate that.
L.A. concertgoers are notoriously jaded, but even those of who of us who’ve seen our share of ego-filled rock star jams knew this night was special. More than any previous gig, project or side project (even the Sound City Players shows), this hometown party conveyed what Dave Grohl is all about: grinding, head-banging, top-of-your-lungs wailing rock bliss, the dorky and amazing kind that a kid at their first big stadium show experiences, shared with a bunch of equally giddy strangers and never, ever forgotten.
This was clear from the very beginning of the show, when Paul Stanley joined the band for their first two numbers, “Detroit Rock City” and “Do You Love Me.” Yeah, they opened the show with that double dose of fist-pumping and foot-stomping helped out by the frontman from KISS, a band that more than maybe any other, understands the grand thrill of stadium rock done right.
Grohl promised that was only the beginning, and he wasn’t kidding.
A block of Foo tracks — bookended by the hits “All My Life” and “My Hero” — followed, and even without the stellar guest procession we knew was coming, it was clear that Grohl and his band (Pat Smear, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett, Rami Jaffee) were going for broke with the performance. Each member was giving it everything, while simultaneously not taking it all too seriously. Throughout the long set, band members sipped beer and champagne bottles on a stage that rotated periodically, so that everyone on the floor and in the Forum seats surrounding, got to see the Foos facing them.
There was also a long, runway-like path that led from the Forum’s backstage area to the small stage in the middle of the arena. It made for some dramatic entrances when the likes of Cooper, Farrell, Black, Slash and the rest emerged. Though Slash does this kind of guest sit-in frequently, at least in L.A., his turn with Black and Gass was a highlight thanks to a monstrous balloon drop and rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Grohl, plus two high-energy tunes, Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” on which Black's vox were killer.
Alice’s spots on “School’s Out,” and “Eighteen” were fiendy fun, and Farrell’s takes on “Mountain Song” and “Miss You” were highly amusing, though we were surprised he didn’t know the words to the Rolling Stones classic. Drummer Taylor Hawkins took up the vocal slack, thankfully.
Nick Oliveri’s jam on “Two Headed Dog,” and Wylde’s guitar thrash-fest, with Grohl on bass, showcased the band’s more metallic tendencies, even if the latter went on a little long for our tastes. Maybe we’ve just reviewed too many Ozzfests, but we much preferred the insane extended jazz-jam moment Grohl had with Trombone Shorty to the shredding he did with Wylde.
A definite highlight was David Lee Roth’s flamboyant Fighters/Van Halen convergence, playing “Panama” and “Aint Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” Roth was charismatic ever, rocking his newly bald head and denim-covered bum as fervently as he ever shook his luscious long locks and spandex'd bod back in the day. It was smile ear-to-ear time for the band and for the crowd.
Sadly, the final guest to join, Lemmy, could not live up to the joyful vibes of DLR, but that had as much to do with what appears to be the Motorhead singer’s ailing health as it did with any musical chemistry or lack thereof. Even with everyone re-joining the band on stage, the closing number was off and Lemmy looked frail. We hope he’s OK.
Two other standout points in the show had nothing to do with guests, which bodes well for the Foos' upcoming tour. One was when Grohl encouraged the crowd to light the stadium with cell-phone flashlights (the equivilent to a Bic lighter moment back in the day) during an extended rendition of “Monkey Wrench.” The other was near the end of the show, when the band played the wistfully melodious “Everlong,” inspiring the entire room to sing along and connect in that unself-conscious way that only happens when the stars align at a big arena show.
Such moments may not be new or innovative, but ultimately it’s this kind of visceral sonic magic that will keep rock & roll alive, no matter what the current flavor of the month may be. It separates the big-leaguers from the small-time players, and the legends from everyone else. Saturday’s celebration proved that at 46 years young, Dave Grohl (along with his band) is definitely on his way to legendary status.