"It's going to be a long, sweaty night," announced Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl early on in his band's Summerfest performance at a packed Marcus Amphitheater on Thursday. "We've got a lot of songs, you know?"
After seven albums and nearly 20 years together, the Foos certainly have no shortage of material to choose from, and Grohl spent much of the evening playing the amiable time traveler, hopping from the band's eponymous 1995 debut album to last year's "Wasting Light." The singer rarely paused, and during songs he'd race from one end of the stage to the other with guitar in hand, propping his foot up on a monitor just long enough to catch his breath. By the third song his black t-shirt was already soaked through with sweat.
Grohl's boundless energy carried over into the band's performance, and the six-piece, three-guitar lineup played with an undeniable enthusiasm as they plowed through nearly three hours of riff-heavy rockers. There were numerous tributes to the group's classic rock forebears sprinkled throughout the evening, and the Foos teased out snippets of songs by the Police ("Message in a Bottle"), Cheap Trick ("Surrender," which Grohl played on a black-and-white checkered guitar on loan from Rick Nielsen) and Pink Floyd (a druggy twirl through "In the Flesh").
"Just so you know," Grohl said, "we know a verse and a chorus from every classic rock song ever made."
It's not surprising. Although Grohl's roots are in punk and hard rock -- he came up as the drummer in Nirvana, his powerful playing belying his slender frame -- Foo Fighters are a far more commercial enterprise, and songs like "Times Like These" and "My Hero" were built on big, sturdy choruses seemingly designed with FM radio in mind. The band was at it's best when its momentum carried the music forward, and "Monkey Wrench," "This Is a Call" and "All My Life" were an intoxicating mix of slashing guitars, propulsive drums, sweat and screams (while a decidedly average singer, Grohl is in possession of a fairly outstanding viking bellow). When the tempos limped on a few occasions, however, the entire audience appeared to sag.
But the biggest issue with the Foo Fighter's performance was the venue itself. From the bleachers, the sound mix was noticeably muted and muddy. Those parked on the lawn had it even worse, and from the center of the standing-room-only expanse the band's songs were reduced to a mushy, lifeless pulp -- a fact that had to disappoint those attendees who shelled out more than $60 a ticket with service fees to endure a poor sound mix while taking in the concert on a half-dozen large video screens.
Grohl nearly overcame these handicaps through sheer force of will, donning any number of hats throughout the set. He played the Borscht Belt comedian (as the audience clapped along on the turgid "Arlandia" he cracked, "Milwaukee has more clap than anyone else"), the blue-collar, gotta-earn-my-keep showman ("That would be a great song to end on, but we're far from finished") and the throwback rock 'n' roll purist ("I like rock bands that come up here and play their instruments and don't have rows of computers behind them"). It's to his credit that all of them fit comfortably.
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