These days, big shows are all about production – the brighter the lights and the larger the screens, the more likely artists are to keep fans entertained and on their feet. For the Foo Fighters, though, there’s no pyro required. In what was no doubt one of the venue’s most sought after shows, the band took over Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium for a lucky, capacity crowd on Halloween night, backed only by a logo for Sonic Highways, the Dave Grohl-directed HBO documentary series that the band was in town to promote.
Leading with “All My Life,” the Foo Fighters were met with what might be the most thunderous applause in Ryman history, kicking off a no-frills rock show that proved all it takes for a kick ass show are some loud guitars and, for Halloween, a little face paint. That energy never died down for what ended up being a three hour, 25-song set, one that mixed older, more obscure cuts like “For All the Cows” and “Weenie Beenie” (both off Foo Fighters) with an assortment of mega-hits and cover songs.
While some of the night’s cooler moments came via those deep cuts, watching Grohl and company play smash after smash (“The Pretender” into “My Hero” into “Learn to Fly” was almost too much to handle) was a powerful reminder that this wasn’t just another rock band, that this was the kind of show you were going to talk about for the rest of your life.
Special guests Tony Joe White and Zac Brown joined the band on a few songs, with White sitting in for his own “Polk Salad Annie” and a face-painted Zac Brown taking the stage for what could only be called an incendiary version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Other covers included Cheap Trick’s “Stiff Competition,” Queen/David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ About Love” and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Breakdown.”
The audience’s happiness (on top of limited ticket quantities, a scalping fiasco gave attendees an extra dose of gratitude for having managed to score a seat) was only rivaled by the band’s, with Grohl taking to the mic between songs to gush about his love for Nashville. “After one week in this city, I don’t want to go home,” he told the audience, having played the majority of the show barefoot so he could better experience what it feels like to stand on the hallowed Ryman stage. The guys were especially amped to debut “Congregation,” a song they wrote and recorded with Zac Brown at Southern Ground studios while filming Sonic Highways.
The premiere of the episode of Sonic Highways that birthed “Congregation” screened before the show began, playing for a mostly full room. Focusing mostly on Nashville’s country roots, the show featured interviews with the likes of Brown, White, Dolly Parton, Dan Auerbach and Tony Brown. The audience, likely pretty inebriated after an hour and a half between doors and the start of the show, was vocal throughout, especially reacting to Dolly Parton’s calling a young Willie Nelson a “dork” and to a segment that was an obvious takedown of the “bro country” culture that has come to dominate Music Row in recent years. A shot of rock venue The End also elicited cheers, although, for whatever reason, the episode mostly shied away from covering the city’s vibrant rock scene.
The band closed with 1997’s “Everlong,” upping the audience decibel level a final time before the house lights brought everyone back to reality. If there’s one takeaway from the show (besides ticket scalpers deserving a special place in hell), it’s that rock is alive and well, and the Foo Fighters are leading the charge to make sure it stays that way.