Lyrics to the Foo Fighters’ opening aural salvo summed up a historic night and extraordinary experience: “It’s times like these you learn to live again.”
There was audience speculation about New York-centric guests along the lines of a Billy Joel, and murmurs of why an artist with area ties like KISS or Bruce Springsteen didn’t reopen the World’s Most Famous Arena. That said, it was immediately clear that the Foo Fighters were the perfect choice for New Yorkers to celebrate the city’s reopening with a much-welcomed infusion of communal energy, camaraderie and joy. The group’s consummately crafted arena rock stylings are classic – and now 26 years since they started – the intensity and propulsion of many of the tunes balanced by Dave Grohl’s irresistible, shaggy charm and everyman goofiness, not to mention the band’s high-octane energy that engulfs every live performance.
Twenty-four songs and more than two-and-a-half hours of hits, covers along with songs from Medicine at Midnight, flew by. The opener “Times Like These,” began with keyboard player Rami Jaffe and Grohl for a focusing moment of quiet intensity before kicking in, while during “The Pretender” the band showed off their musical bona fides by sneaking in a bit of “Hocus Pocus” by Focus. By the time the dynamic mid-tempo hit “Learn to Fly” had finished. Grohl was sweat-soaked and the unmasked audience was beyond enraptured.
The Medicine at Midnight tunes performed were nearly as well-received as established hits, no small feat. “No Son of Mine,” a relentless, Motorhead-inspired rager featuring three female backup singers, was incendiary, and in marked contrast to another new cut, “Shame Shame,” a spare, percussive, slightly reggae-tinged song that marks a successful musical departure for the Foos. The powerful title track, too, has an ‘80s flair that still manages to be modern.
Arena-rock with the charm and intimate charisma of a garage band, Foo Fighters’ shone on hits including “My Hero,” “This is a Call,” and “Best of You.”
The humor evinced in many of the band’s videos came through during an encore from their new disco “side project,” the Dee Gees, with a faithful and fun version of “You Should Be Dancing.” (A photo of Barry Gibb’s hirsute visage gazed upon the crowd from Hawkins’ kick drum.) Ultimate California boy Hawkins proved his mettle as a vocalist on Queen’s “Somebody to Love” (which the band covered at their warm-up show last week) with Grohl taking his former Nirvana role as behind the drum kit, the female backing vocals again adding even more depth to the band’s already layered instrumental prowess.
The evening was also a lot on the emotional scale, likely for everyone in the arena. The Foos dedicated the show to Andy Pollard, their stage manager of 12 years, who died on June 18. The Father’s Day show, announced only a few weeks earlier, also found many father-daughter and father-son duos in attendance. Hawkins embarrassed his young son with an intro that was shown on the big screen.
While proof of vaccination was required for entry, protocols for verifying vax status at MSG’s entrances were shoddy at best. The underlying gravitas of the evening – that it had been nearly 500 days since a concert at the Garden, and that in that time, more than 33,000 people in New York City alone died from COVID, wasn’t lost. Instead, the night served as a celebration of the light at the end of the darkest of tunnels, A grinning Grohl offered up, “this feels good and I think we should do this more often.”
Despite a small cadre of anti-vax protesters outside the Garden, onstage, Grohl merely said, “let’s keep our fucking shit together. We can do it.” Closing with their signature hit “Everlong,” Grohl’s lyrics could again be viewed as symbolic of the joyful return to a shared experience: “If everything could ever feel this real forever / If anything could ever be this good again.”
Foo Fighters Madison Square Garden Setlist, 6/20/21
Times Like These
Learn to Fly
No Son of Mine
The Sky Is a Neighborhood
Medicine at Midnight
Somebody to Love (Queen cover) (Taylor on lead vocals, Dave on drums)
Creep (Radiohead cover) (with Dave Chappelle)
All My Life
This Is a Call
Best of You
Making a Fire
You Should Be Dancing (Bee Gees cover) (Band live debut)