Dave Grohl is a rock star. I know this because a few years back I saw the Foo Fighters play live. I’m not a long-time fan, I knew of them, I’d heard their most popular songs, but I didn’t buy my first Foo Fighters album until I heard “The Pretender.” Based on that song I bought the entire Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace album unheard, being at a point in my life where I was finally comfortable with taking a risk on unheard music.
Echoes turned out to be a great soundtrack for my mostly solitary 2010, strangely aligning with my divorce and providing songs that mirrored each emotional stage of that process. But I still wasn’t hooked. I didn’t buy up their back catalog or check the tour schedule.
Then I caught Dave Grohl giving an acoustic performance in a small auditorium on the concert channel. He was riveting. I tuned in at a point where he was speaking to the audience and was instantly captivated. Over the rest of the program he played, talked about the back story to his songs and his creative process and played some more, sometimes alone, sometimes with a supporting band. He closed out the concert with a solo acoustic rendition of “Best of You” that blew me away.
He had already established a deep passion for music and performing that was clear in his playing and interacting with the audience over the course of the concert. Here, with this song and one guitar, he took his performance up a notch and in doing so he took the audience with him; not just a few diehards in the front row, the entire audience, all 800 or 900 hundred of them, all the way to the back row. They connected with that song and matched his passion and I knew then I had to see Dave perform live.
A year and a half later, the Foo Fighters opened with the first two songs off Wasting Light before breaking out “The Pretender,” “My Hero,” and “Learn to Fly,” with Dave leaving the main stage to move into an aisle carved through the floor audience, at times leaning into the crowd as he played. After that blistering opening, Dave took a minute to ask a question: “When did weed become legal in Boston?” He never let up on the sarcasm from that moment on, taunting the audience by explaining the band was about to throw down a “monster one hour set”, knowing the internet was alive with stories of their two and a half hour sets. As the Boston crowd lustily booed this announcement, he allowed himself to be talked up to two hours before driving the crowd into a frenzy by turning auctioneer and asking “do I hear three?!”
Throughout the concert Dave kept up the sarcastic banter. Introducing the lead guitarist, he pointed out that he played lead guitar on only two songs – Dave clearly covering all the others – but was generous enough to allow that they were “really important songs.” They played fourteen more songs in their opening set, closing with a monster rendition of “All My Life” played on top of a stage floor lit blood red as Dave yelled into the microphone “And I’m done, done onto the next one!” The crowd was alive with the driving insistence of that song and at times the audience drowned out the band. The stage went black as the song ended and the audience vibrated with anticipation for the encore set, egged on by a back stage feed of Dave and Taylor holding up fingers for the number of songs that would be played in an entertaining good cop/bad cop routine.
Dave started the encore with an acoustic version of “Wheels” and some chatter about how the fans in Germany loved that song, biding his time before tapping into the crowd’s energy again, pulling them into a more intimate connection by sharing his thoughts, and promising to come back and play a tiny venue if the Boston crowd put up a better showing than the Germans. After “Wheels,” and seemingly happy with the audience participation, Dave then shared that he had learned he could make an audience do the wave with just his face. Sensing scepticism, “You don’t believe me?” Dave turned to crowd on the floor to front left of the stage and using just his face got the audience to do the wave. “See, I told you. Just my face.”
We cheered as he casually tuned his guitar, leaned into the mike, and with dripping disgust, chastised us, “Never do the fucking wave at a rock concert.” Just as that jibe was starting to register, just as the Garden was collectively drawing in their breath to respond, Dave grabbed their intent and bent it to his will, crushing the cacophony of what would have been boos and cheers and laughs and replacing it with an outpouring of jubilation as he yelled “I’ve got another confession to make!”
The Garden exploded. Exactly as I had witnessed on TV, Dave commanded the audience, only this time he took 19,000 people with him as he poured an amount of passion into his performance that you wouldn’t believe was possible on the last night of a year-long tour. I joined in, yelling the lyrics out at the top of my lungs, not wanting the concert to end, wanting to hear more songs that sent my heart racing, that made me raise my arms into the air, that kept me on my feet for two and a half hours.
Dave transitioned into “Times Like These” and was joined by the band. From there they played my favorite song off their new album, “Dear Rosemary,” morphed that into Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” and closed with “Everlong”, which made me marvel at Taylor Hawkins’ endurance as the Fighters charged through that song.
After the concert, my friends and I walk back to my car. The pre-concert rain has stopped and it’s surprisingly warm for a November night and I’m enjoying walking with the happy mob of concert goers as we disperse from the Garden. It’s nearly midnight, but I’m wide awake and I know from experience that I won’t be asleep before 2am. I’m buzzing with energy, every nerve ending in my body is singing, the concert had stripped away my concerns and obligations and fears. It had untethered me from those thoughts for an evening. It freed me to live in and enjoy that moment.
It’s not until I actually step into the elevator at the parking garage and press the button for the fourth floor that I remember the last time I was there. The memory freezes me for a moment, like bitterly cold air will do when you step outside and draw that first breath deep into your lungs, feeling it touch parts of your insides that are normally quiet and undisturbed, the unfamiliar sensations expanding your sense of self, and takes me back to that evening.
It was a bitingly cold January evening and I was leaving McCormick & Schmick’s. Holding onto my left arm is a beautiful woman. We’ve just had our second date and I had decided during dinner that I was going to kiss her for the first time that night.
I don’t remember if I decided before or after she ran her hand through my hair as she excused herself from the table. I do remember that I decided as she was checking a message from her babysitter (divorced parents understand the need to check the phone mid-date). She had turned to the side to reach into her purse to get her iPhone, pushing the hair on the left side of her face behind her ear and letting the hair on the right side of her face fall forward, framing the soft, freckled ivory of her profile with curly red, fiery glory. I was enthralled and I let my eyes linger longer than would have been comfortable had she not been distracted by the message on her phone.
Now she was walking close to me, her hand hooked through my elbow, her arm pressed up against the back of my arm, and my pulse quickened in anticipation as we entered the garage and paused to wait for the elevator. Two other couples entered the elevator with us. They pressed the button for the second floor, I pressed the button for the fourth and as the elevator began to rise I dropped my arm to lead her hand into mine and turned towards her, catching her bright blue eyes as the elevator slowed to a stop, her eyes are quizzical for a split second and then they sparkle and dance with excitement and affirmation.
As the doors opened and the other couples began to step out, I let go of her hand, moved my hand to the small of her back, and pulled her closer, slipping my other hand up and between her shoulders, feeling her hands and arms wrap around my back as I leaned down to press my lips against hers, beginning our first kiss before the doors even started to close for the elevator’s journey to the fourth floor, knowing that the couples departing the elevator had felt the energy between us, having heard one start to laugh and another question “Did you see…?” as the doors closed.
I brought her closer, layers of clothes and two winter jackets taking little away from the excitement of feeling her body press against mine for the first time. I watched her eyes as her face drew closer, she closed them and tilted her head to the side as our lips met. Tentatively at first, but then bolder, each of us responding to the small clues from the other. She hugged me closer, I parted my lips a fraction. She parted hers and kissed me more deeply. I moved my hand to the back of her neck, one of my fingers tracing just behind an ear, and she teased her tongue across my top lip. I responded in kind and the elevator stopped with that slight bump older elevators have, our first kiss having lasted two floors and maybe twelve seconds.
I pulled away as the cold air flooded into the elevator, buzzing with energy, all of my concerns and obligations and fears stripped away, alive only for this moment and completely focused on the beautiful woman in front of me, who’s squeezing my hand as we walk towards my car and what I’m sure will be our second kiss.
The elevator opens on the fourth floor, the same slight bump bringing me back into the present. Dave is a rock star; a superstar even. But he needed a six man band, a computerized, motorized, laser-ized lighting system, tens of thousands of watts of ear splitting amplification, dozens of roadies, at least five guitars by my count, 19,000 screaming fans and two and half hours to untether me from the foundations of my daily existence.
She did it with a look, an embrace, and one kiss in the time it took for an elevator to slowly climb twenty feet.