On Saturday night, Super Bowl week hit a crescendo -- well, really, many loud, screaming, distorted, high energy crescendos -- as Dave Grohl's mostly-dormant Foo Fighters came back together for a typically triumphant set at the Bud Light Hotel, a massive pop up venue on the banks New York's Hudson River that's been hosting mega-bands all week in a buildup to the big game. As expected for these kinds of giant operations, it was impossible to ignore the branding opps thoughout -- mega beer logos were apparent throughout, the trademark blue coloring peppering the venue (including a tunnel/bridge that had to be walked through to get into the room), and discarded thousands of the brand's aluminum bottles littering the floor, making dancing precarious at best.
But, unsurprisingly -- even as he himself sipped the beer onstage with a figurative wink and a nod (and a literal thumbs up) -- Grohl broke through the idea that this was corporate shillery with the Foo Fighters delivering a career-spanning two-hour set that surprisingly veered away from just being a greatest-hits run. In fact, playing deep album cuts like “Cold Day In The Sun” (sung by drummer Taylor Hawkins) and 1999's “Generator” was something of a risk considering the thousands-strong audience was composed mostly of contest winners, VIPs, and various assorted hangers-on rather than hardcore fans. Indeed, some seemed a bit confused during these non-shoutalong bangers.
But even those in attendance just to say they saw the Foo Fighters -- rather than those actually there to see the Foo Fighters -- couldn't argue with the precision of hits ranging from the early “This is a Call” to “Rope” (from the band's most recent album, 2011's Wasting Light). And for those still concerned that the Foos may continue their temporary hiatus, well, worry no more: “As far as I'm concerned, this is the f---ing halftime show,” declared Grohl mid-way through the performance. “We've played about three shows in the past year-and-a-half, but this reminds me how much I love these songs.”
There was no lack of heart here -- before “Big Me,” the band's first huge hit, Grohl referenced his years in Nirvana as he talked about the song's history. “Years ago I was in this band... and then I wasn't in that band anymore, and I wrote some songs for myself” he said. “That was some 20 years ago. We all survived the last 20 years.”
Grohl's been more open in recent years to talking about that Nirvana history (the deep cut “Hey, Johnny Park!,” also played last night, is also a direct reference to the aftermath of Kurt Cobain's suicide and that Hall of Fame-bound band's disintegration), but that doesn't betray any sense of fun. Two surprise covers towards the end of the night included Pink Floyd's epic “In the Flesh” and Tom Petty's classic “Breakdown,” jammed into out of the band's own “Dear Rosemary.”
No strangers to covers themselves, openers Zac Brown Band (who, let's be honest, are large enough that they could have headlined an event like this themselves) plowed through a slew of familiar, yet disparate, songs including "Into the Mystic,” “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” “Kashmir," “Enter Sandman” and even Rage Against The Machine's “Killing in the Name.” If they weren't so self-assured playing their own tunes -- which range from the good ole country stomp of “Chicken Fried” to the Dave Matthews-esque “Goodbye In Her Eyes” -- it would be easy to dismiss their set as bar band-esque, but it's impossible to deny Brown's love of the material, and the band's precision in delivering it.
The only negative? Grohl produced Zac Brown Band's most recent release, and, despite the mutual admiration -- and a precedent: a performance together at this year's CAA awards -- there was no onstage collaboration. Next time, Bud Light may want to work that into the contract.