The Atlantic - Where were you planning to be on the Fourth of July this year? Backyard barbecue with your crankiest relatives, fighting over who gets to light the illegal fireworks that your derelict cousin smuggled in from South Carolina? Or maybe out on the Chesapeake Bay, arguing about the amount of mayonnaise in the crab cakes while drinking warm National Bohemian beer? Better yet, tubing down the Shenandoah with a soggy hot dog while blasting Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band”?
I know exactly where I was supposed to be: FedExField, outside Washington, D.C., with my band Foo Fighters and roughly 80,000 of our closest friends. We were going to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of our debut album. A red, white, and blue keg party for the ages, it was primed to be an explosive affair shared by throngs of my sunburned hometown brothers and sisters, singing along to more than a quarter century of Foo.
Well, things have changed.
They sure fuckin have Dave Grohl.
Yes Dave Grohl is also an awesome writer. Add that to his long long list of accolades. (What can't the guy do?) He's the fuckin man. Unless you're WSD and think he's over-rated... And he penned a pretty awesome piece for The Atlantic back in May that I read and I think of every time I look at my calendar and see the date of a show I was supposed to have seen this summer come and go.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has reduced today’s live music to unflattering little windows that look like doorbell security footage and sound like Neil Armstrong’s distorted transmissions from the moon, so stuttered and compressed. It’s enough to make Max Headroom seem lifelike. Don’t get me wrong, I can deal with the monotony and limited cuisine of quarantine (my lasagna game is on point!), and I know that those of us who don’t have to work in hospitals or deliver packages are the lucky ones, but still, I’m hungry for a big old plate of sweaty, ear-shredding, live rock and roll, ASAP. The kind that makes your heart race, your body move, and your soul stir with passion.
There is nothing like the energy and atmosphere of live music. It is the most life-affirming experience, to see your favorite performer onstage, in the flesh, rather than as a one-dimensional image glowing in your lap as you spiral down a midnight YouTube wormhole. Even our most beloved superheroes become human in person. Imagine being at Wembley Stadium in 1985 as Freddie Mercury walked onstage for the Live Aid benefit concert. Forever regarded as one of the most triumphant live performances of all time (clocking in at a mere 22 minutes) Freddie and Queen somehow managed to remind us that behind every rock god is someone who puts on their studded arm bracelet, absurdly tight white tank, and stonewashed jeans one pant leg at a time just like the rest of us. But, it wasn’t necessarily Queen’s musical magic that made history that day. It was Freddie's connection with the audience that transformed that dilapidated soccer stadium into a sonic cathedral. In broad daylight, he majestically made 72,000 people his instrument, joining them in harmonious unison.
Thought about this again a couple months ago when I got a notification from Ticketmaster that the Rage Against The Machine reunion show scheduled for May19th at United Center had officially been moved to July 12, 2021...
We all knew this was obviously not going to be happening but hearing we're looking at July of NEXT year at the earliest for a makeup was a major stomach punch.
You can pretty much call it a wrap on any other shows this summer, fall + winter too.
This is a major blow to recording artists, as most of their revenue nowadays comes from "360 deals" based on touring, ticket sales, and merch sales. But it's an even bigger blow to us the fans. Summer concert season has become a staple nationwide. Forget the overdone, watered down music festivals, I'm talking outdoor pavilions, under the stars, amphitheaters, etc. Now even most baseball parks are in the mix and make for incredible concert experiences.
As a lifelong concertgoer, I know this feeling well. I myself have been pressed against the cold front rail of an arena rock show. I have air-drummed along to my favorite songs in the rafters, and been crushed in the crowd, dancing to dangerous decibel levels while lost in the rhythm. I’ve been lifted and carried to the stage by total strangers for a glorious swan dive back into their sweaty embrace. Arm in arm, I have sung at the top of my lungs with people I may never see again. All to celebrate and share the tangible, communal power of music.
When you take away the pyrotechnics and confetti of an arena rock concert, what are you left with? Just … people? I will never forget the night I witnessed U2 perform at what used to be called the MCI Center in D.C. This was their 2001 Elevation Tour, a massive production. I waited for the lights to go out so that I could lose myself in a magnificent, state-of-the-art rock show. To my surprise, the band walked onstage without any introduction, house lights fully illuminated, and kicked into the first song beneath their harsh, fluorescent glow, without the usual barrage of lasers and LED screens we’ve all become accustomed to. The brilliant move stunned the audience and began an unforgettable concert on a very raw, personal note. This was no accident, mind you. It was a lesson in intimacy. Without all the strobes and lasers, the room shrank to the size of a dirty nightclub at last call, every blemish in plain view. And with that simple gesture, we were reminded that we are all indeed just people. People that need to connect with one another.
Amen Dave Grohl A-MEN!
Live music has the rare ability to bring people from all walks of life and all different beliefs together as one. It helps people forget about all the bullshit in their lives for a few hours. (I think this is why most people get so irate at shows when musicians go on political or philosophical rants. "Just play music man nobody wants to be reminded how shitty the real world is. Plus we paid a fortune for this show, not a lecture.")
And we've been robbed of it for almost this entire year so far and for the foreseeable future. That's a major kick in the dick no matter what way you look at it.
One night, before a Foo Fighters show in Vancouver, my tour manager alerted me that the “Boss” himself, Bruce Springsteen, was in attendance (cue paralyzing nerves). Frozen with fear, I wondered how I could possibly perform in front of this legendary showman, famous for his epic concerts that span four hours. I surely could never live up to his lofty expectations! It turns out he was there to see the opening band (cue devastating humiliation), so I was off the hook. But we chatted briefly before the gig, and I was again reminded of not only the human being behind every superhero, but also the reason millions of people identify with him: He is real. Three hours later, as I sat on a locker-room bench recovering from the show, drenched in my own sweat, there was a knock at the door. Bruce wanted to say hello. Having actually stayed for our set (cue jaw crashing to the floor), he very generously thanked us and commented on our performance, specifically the rapport we seem to have with our audience. Something he obviously understood very well. When asked where he watched the show from, he said that he’d stood in the crowd, just like everyone else. Of course he did. He was searching for that connection too.
A few days later, I received a letter from Bruce, handwritten on hotel stationery, that explained this very clearly. “When you look out at the audience,” he wrote, “you should see yourself in them, just as they should see themselves in you.”
Didn't need to include it but I ride hard for Springsteen and this is just textbook Bruce. What a man of class and dignity. "Hey what's up. I'm here to watch the opener. JK, that was a hell of show. Oh yah and look out for my handwritten note on BOSS stationary in the mail next week."
(sidebar- I mentioned this in a blog a few months ago. The first time I saw Foo Fighters was at Wrigley Field a few summers ago. Had been a big fan always but that night put them on another level for me. There are bands that put on shows and then there are bands that put on 3 to 4 hour shows. And not talking sit down acoustic sets with babbling for 5 minutes in between songs to draw it out. I'm talking straight hit after hit continuously for what feels like 45 minutes but is actually 180. Bruce had always been tops in terms of that- as Grohl mentions, 4 hours is standard for a Springsteen show (and never the same set list). But Grohl and the Foo Fighters put on a 3 hour rager at Wrigley that night. He screamed his lungs out like a maniac from the first note straight through the final encore song. I was floored. The guy is a legend.)
Not to brag, but I think I’ve had the best seat in the house for 25 years. Because I do see you. I see you pressed against the cold front rails. I see you air-drumming along to your favorite songs in the distant rafters. I see you lifted above the crowd and carried to the stage for a glorious swan dive back into its sweaty embrace. I see your homemade signs and your vintage T-shirts. I hear your laughter and your screams and I see your tears. I have seen you yawn (yeah, you), and I’ve watched you pass out drunk in your seat. I've seen you in hurricane-force winds, in 100-degree heat, in subzero temperatures. I have even seen some of you grow older and become parents, now with your children's Day-Glo protective headphones bouncing on your shoulders. And each night when I tell our lighting engineer to “Light ’em up!,” I do so because I need that room to shrink, and to join with you as one under the harsh, fluorescent glow.
This really twists the knife. Great visualization here by Grohl. We've all been at one of these shows in one of these extreme elements that we'll never forget and we've all been the guy or girl that's been with the guy or girl thats passed out drunk in their seat (never us personally).
Off the top of my head I missed seeing Guns N Roses at Wrigley (one of the best live bands I've seen the past 2 years multiple times), Motley Crue (was so fired up to finally see them live) and Def Leppard at Wrigley, Rage's reunion show at United Center (mentioned above), Lady Gaga at Wrigley (call me a gayball all you want. She puts on a fuckin spectacle), Green Day - Fall Out Boy - Weezer at Wrigley, Kenny Chesney at Soldier Field (would have been a blast), Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill tour, The Foo Fighters (obv), Luke Bryan, and Chicago & Earth Wind and Fire.
Word on the street was there was a strong possibility Taylor Swift was slated to headline Lollapalooza this year, sandwiched right between her West Coast and East Coast festival shows. So that would have been something.
As would have the stacked lineup Riot Fest put together this year. Robbie did an awesome job breaking it down in a blog a couple months ago.
So here in Chicago we had quite the musical summer lined up and it all went to shit. Who were some artists you were excited to see that Covid fucked up?