Foo Fighters got us good last night, but what’s so remarkable is that Dave Grohl and his bros have been the reigning jesters in rock’s court for about 20 years now. Their love of pranks and send-ups has been synonymous with their power chords ever since they broke the typically self-serious grunge mold with 1996’s winsome, Mentos commercial-spoofing clip for “Big Me.”
Only their sometime-tourmates Weezer managed to crack the same code and realize that angst-ridden guitar-rock could be juxtaposed with lighter, more in-jokey visuals. But those guys never quite delved into the outright slapstick and sketch comedy that Grohl and Co. volunteer themselves for: That is, Weezer didn’t don prosthetics to play the sumo wrestlers themselves in their “Hash Pipe” clip. That’s essentially what Foo Fighters did, though, with 1999’s “Learn to Fly,” which was one of their catchiest singles but also one of their most stone-faced to date. How to defuse the placid jangle and searching lyrics about “looking for the sky to save me?” By putting wigs and fake boobs on Grohl in a clip where macho rock-comics Tenacious D drug a plane crew and passengers — all played by the Foos, of course (including former Sunny Day Real Estate moper Nate Mendel as a baby).
By now, this unapologetic silliness has become expected not just in the band’s videos (peep 2002’s homophobe-baiting “Low,” where a trucker-hatted Grohl cross-dresses in a motel with Jack Black — 100-upped nearly a decade later by the band’s truck-stop shower-frolicking “Hot Buns” promo video); it’s also become a steady part of their real-life approach to the stage. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day gave up their goofy mannerisms a long time ago, in favor of almost perilously earnest makeovers — Foo Fighters’ tack is closer to if Alien Ant Farm was an Important Band and stuck it out for two decades.
You could make the argument that their mega-success after Kurt Cobain’s death directly correlates to how they deflated grunge with a smile, that the famously pro-LGBTQ Cobain himself would be proud, had he lived to see his drummer go on to troll the Westboro Baptist Church. To wit: In 2011, when the bigots wielding “God Hates Fags” signs attempted to picket a Foo Fighters show, they got tricked into cheering on a disguised country performance that included lyrics like “In the mood for some hot man-lovin’.” And that wasn’t even the only time they’ve punked the world’s worst church. At this point, Grohl is a companion and peer of Paul McCartney, Bono, and John Paul Jones. Even with Mr. Macphisto and “Dirk McQuickly” in that bunch, those guys never attempted anything as confrontational and Jackass-esque as the Foos doing this:
And the band’s also known for turning lemons into Lynchburg Lemonade, anointing Grohl with an actual throne to famously continue a tour last year after the frontman broke his leg. This kicked off his grandest array of stunts yet: publicly enacting revenge on a rival drummer from ninth grade, making fun of his rich fans in box seats, and challenging Animal from The Muppets to a percussionists’ duel. What keeps these sophomoric banana peels unique is that in between, Grohl’s snagged two Emmys, performed with a jazz piano legend, and collaborated with the cute Beatle himself. He maintains his highbrow in order to give his lowbrow the grandeur it deserves. No one else has. And while he still makes pretty good music sometimes, it’s inarguable that Grohl’s charisma is at least half-carrying his rock’n’roll torch. Which brings us to last night’s prematurely speculated-about “announcement” video. It worked precisely as well as it did because it makes total sense that Foo Fighters would be ready for a break, but they also couldn’t have pranked their fans (and, frankly, us) if they weren’t so shameless to begin with. No one else could’ve pulled it off with such a straight face.
So yeah, Foo Fighters. You got us, because you get us.