Skip to content

Dave Grohl’s 5 Best Drum Performances, According to Fred Armisen

Dave Grohl on Saturday Night Live with Fred Armisen, Ashton Kutcher, and Bill Hader

A version of this article was originally published on February 21, 2013.

“When Dave Grohl was going to be on the show [with Them Crooked Vultures],” recalls former Saturday Night Live cast member and Portlandia star Fred Armisen, “I thought, ‘How can I get this amazing drummer in a sketch?'”

The resulting “Crisis of Conformity” performance occupies a special place in Armisen’s musical memory, but the former Trenchmouth drummer, who, it must be said, bears an uncanny resemblance to percussion virtuoso Jens Hannemann, is a longtime Grohl geek.

“Every drum part he does is a masterpiece,” raves Armisen, who now plays drums with the 8G Band, the house band for Late Night With Seth Meyers. “He’s never just heavy for heavy’s sake or rock for rock’s sake—it’s all so musical, with an incredible sense of dynamics. Every generation has their drumming guy, and Dave is ours.”

In no particular order, here are Armisen’s five favorite drumming performances by our February 2013 cover star. “To make it more interesting, I tried to split it up between his different bands,” explains Armisen. “But it’s Dave Grohl—are you kidding me? I could’ve easily picked 10.”

Queens of the Stone Age – “No One Knows”

“[Grohl’s drumming] is to me the real heart of the song. It’s just so powerful and beautiful. It’s like he’s in a race car and he’s got his foot on the gas. Every time I hear it, it just lifts me up. It’s the best. The attack on all the drums—if you listen to the hi-hat part of it, there’s so much control. That part is so, so good. If there are any drummers out there, just play that part and you’ll feel great. It sets the tone for the whole song. Some of the part goes beyond description. You just believe in it. It’s like a little mini-religion.”

Nirvana – “All Apologies” (Unplugged)

“I think it’s his most expressive drumming. It’s some of the best drumming I’ve ever heard. I don’t know how he does it, but his drumming on this is heavy and light at the same time. I don’t mean that he goes up and down in dynamics; it’s the only time that I’ve heard someone play at a lower volume but still rock so heavy. Most drummers would be tempted to have their fills be lighter. It’s almost like they gave Dave this task of play this unplugged thing and he said, ‘You know what, I’m gonna rock this anyway. I’m still gonna really drive the song.’ It’s also nice that he sings at the end of the live version because I like it when drummers sing.”

Foo Fighters – “My Hero”

“I’m stuck between two songs. Fuck. I’m gonna choose ‘This Is A Call.’ I wanted to choose ‘My Hero’ — no, I’m gonna choose ‘My Hero’ from The Colour and the Shape. The drumming from ‘My Hero,’ there’s something that’s almost like a propaganda, Russian marching band of rock drumming about it. The whole theme of the song is about hero worship and somehow the drums reflect that. The tempo is really nice. It’s different from the way he drums on other songs. There’s something militaristic about it. At every step of the way, it isn’t the same thing over and over again. He just went to this other level of drumming, like he went into a side-room: ‘I’m gonna try this out for a second.’ It makes me want to stand up and salute.”

Mike Watt – “Big Train”

“Dave’s drumming on this one seems fun; he’s hanging out with his friends and playing music. It was another style: ‘I’m gonna play with my friends and make this song sound even better.’ It’s supposed to sound a little bit like a train on the tracks. It just makes me happy. Right away you’re gonna hear a single-stroke build up to the song. You’ll hear it and you’ll think exactly what I did, which is ‘Oh, there’s Dave totally having a great time.’ His feel through the whole song is great. It’s from the album Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. It sounds like a party—one I wish I was invited to.”

Cat Power – “He War”

“It’s a very complex part that’s almost like a puzzle piece. I’ll never get enough of listening to his drum part on this. It might even be overdubbed, double-tracked. It’s like a drumming conversation. He doesn’t just ride on the hi-hat. He does this kind of Morse code on it instead. The part is really artistic; it’s this great arty part. I love hearing it. There’s a beat he does all the way through, and then you’ll hear a hi-hat and a rack tom. He laid those on top of everything. It’s so cool. You gotta hear it. It’s one of those performances where you gotta listen on headphones. He adds so much to that song. He’s not content with, ‘I’m just gonna play a little bit.’ He turns it into something better. He always does.”