Blast intern Morgan Lawrence is following the Foo Fighters from Washington, to New York, to Newark and back home to Boston. This is part three of her four-part series.
NEWARK, N.J. — After a three-block walk, a train ride, and then another 15-minute trek through Brooklyn, it seemed that Jersey was all too rapidly approaching. All told, I got about 3 hours of sleep, waking up to throw my hair into a messy ponytail and don my coat to ward off the exhaustion chills. My friend, a New York resident, proved a kind and able guide through the New York subway system (as well as, I should add, the owner of the world’s most comfortable cot). She was kind enough to make sure that despite the efforts of my heavy eyelids I did not fall asleep on the subway – and, even if I did, that I wouldn’t miss my stop.
Despite the fact that my eyes fought to close without my permission and I felt slightly delirious, I will say this: the Starbucks at 42nd and 8th makes a mean pumpkin spice latte – a venti with soy and an extra shot, to be precise. I don’t know how they do it, but by the time I finished it off (in record time) I felt positively human again, actually ready to face a day of hardcore waiting and 3 hours of rocking out.
What I wasn’t ready for, though, was Newark. To be honest, the thought of showing up to a venue first was, for the first time, totally unappealing to me – mostly the fact that I’d be sitting outside a building in Newark I’d never been to before, alone. Thus, I hedged, sitting in the ‘bucks for far longer than I ever would have on the morning of a concert otherwise. Frankly I couldn’t be sure that the Canadian girls I’d met at Madison Square Garden, who would be continuing on the Northeast route as well, would be there at 9 am as they’d promised, and I couldn’t see the line in Newark competing with that of New York. I decided to head out with enough time to catch, at the latest, a 10 am light rail to Newark Penn Station.
It was a gorgeous day when I stepped off the train and started the brief walk to the venue. Gratefully it stayed that way, allowing us to sun like cats on the makeshift barricades that kept us clustered around the arena entrance for the day. The tour-traditional searches for food and bathrooms were short-lived, though, as we realized that Newark isn’t exactly somewhere you go for a healthy walk or to “explore”. The McDonald’s we found two blocks away proved to be an adventure enough – we didn’t go back. Our attempts to see the band as they went in for soundcheck proved similarly fruitless, although we did successfully chat with some very friendly crew, who recognized us from the nights before.
As time wore on, though, things got…weird. I suppose in concert lines this is bound to happen, but this was just strange. First of all, we in the front had been given a pretty wide berth, more of a semi-circle (a pen, if you will) of barricade in which to stay. Rather than protectively sitting in a single-file formation, the first twenty-five or so were milling around, out of order. This seemed to both confuse people into thinking that there was no “line” (causing them to try to hop the barricade and join us) and allow people to pretend they didn’t know it was a line. I ended up being the only one willing to tell those people that the end of the line was that way, thank you very much. Tensions were bubbling up and the formerly pleasant and casual atmosphere was starting to feel kind of threatening – there is nothing to dread so much in line for a show as disorganization, because someone is going to get burned.
And that’s probably why my sharpie hand-numbering system got so out of control. It was never intended to be law. It was to discourage people from cutting or letting 12 friends join them in line (at least without the permission of the people behind them). In light of the news we received that we’d be entering through 4 different doors instead of the standard 1, the two guys who had shown up early that morning took charge, trying to pre-coordinate, ordering that everyone line up according to their number. I wound up second to go through the 3rd door. This technically put me behind two other guys who had claimed to want right corner. I realized I’d be lucky if I’d get second or third off the barricade, let alone my corner spot. I was the most stressed out I’d been all tour so far, sitting there and realizing that my spot – or the loss thereof – was no one’s fault but my own, and I was going to have to deal. And then, suddenly, the doors opened, and all thoughts disappeared.
I rushed forward whenever I got a break, through the ticket checkers and the wristband station (painfully slow!), until I was in the clear, finally realizing that despite their calls of “Don’t run!” they couldn’t do a damn thing to stop me. I jogged for it – only to be passed by my barricade neighbor from the past two shows. Damn it. I leaned halfway over the barricade when I finally reached it, half-relieved and half wired on adrenaline. I tried breathlessly to yell at him: “You’d outrun me? You’d outrun your friend?”. Still, at least I was in the same spot I’d been in the night before, and that was much more than I’d been able to hope for only a few short minutes ago.
The Joy Formidable was back to their full five-song set, making sure to comment that this was their second to last show and how sorry thy were to see the tour end. I do think singer Ritzy Byan, and perhaps the band in general, was more than a bit taken aback by how empty the stands were as they began their set. The former mentioned how huge the building was and, at one point, noted how quiet it became as she sang a verse with all the instruments muted. She was right – it was the quietest an arena had been all tour. While I didn’t notice any anger or bitterness in her tone, or any change in their performance as a whole, when she talked about “Whirring” — the final song that always features a 5-minute digression – she seemed to almost smirk when she said “We’re going to keep this short and sweet”. Whatever the case, as they left the stage, they left behind them once again the impression that they are a very solid band for whom this is quite probably just the beginning, not the end.
Next up, of course, was Social Distortion. Mike Ness seemed to add even more swagger to his already super-tough persona during this time around. He traded in his traditional sprays of spit at the microphone in favor of full-on loogies to the stage and bantered sarcastically with the audience all the while. “This is a happy song,” he said at one point, “It’s called ‘Machine Gun Blues’”. Later he claimed to notice a lot of crazy people in the audience, adding, “All of New Jersey is crazy”. His “crazy”, though, was dragged out with a kind of Fonz-like cool that made it evident that, coming from Mike Ness, that was a compliment. When the applause wasn’t immediate, he repeated, “Come on, motherfuckers, I said ‘all of New Jersey is crazy,’” – proving that, if nothing else, when Mike Ness gives you a compliment, you take it. This wasn’t quite the best part of their set, however. It wasn’t even when guitarist Johnny “2 Bags” Wickersham, after two shows with not so much as a glance anywhere but outward, finally raised his head and looked at us in the front row, sending picks and smiles our way during “Story of My Life”. No, it was when, toward the end of the set, a slow and familiar riff emitted from Mike’s guitar. I once again told myself it was not their ballad “Ball and Chain” (a much-lamented fact by everyone I spoke to) but something familiar-sounding that they had been playing all along. … Except it was “Ball and Chain”. I gleefully sang along and marveled at how this one song seemed to change the whole tone and pace of their set. I was almost surprised when Mike said “You know what I want to do right now? I want to sing a Johnny Cash song,” meaning their set-closing number was about to begin. Without a doubt Social D had bested themselves, and it was fun as hell to watch.
And then, of course, it was time for the Foo Fighters. I was anxiously bouncing on the balls of my feet as the band walked onstage, still partially hidden behind the huge otherworldly light fixtures. Three shows in and this hadn’t gotten old in the least- if anything, it had gotten better.
And it was about to get better still. The energy that the other performers had shown so far was only emphasized by the main attraction, and they weren’t leaving any doubt about that. “Call your boss and tell him you have irritable bowel syndrome or something,” Dave commanded, “it’s gonna be a long fuckin’ night!”. His banter with the audience, and with his band mates, continued at a remarkably high level. Some guys I’d met in line who had been determined to be noticed for their signs for Nate – “Nate is a Wizard!” “OH GOD NATE” – were in fact noticed, with Dave chiding them for their Sharpie-and-posterboard handiwork: “I can see how much work you put into it”. He shared an anecdote about Pat Smear coming to him earlier that day, hung over, and what his advice for the guitarist had been: “Champagne, motherfucker!”. Smear brandished his glass appropriately before dissolving into a fit of laughter. “How you feeling now?” Dave asked, to which Pat could only manage to respond “You’re cracking me up tonight!” At this Dave smiled and noted that if he was making Pat Smear laugh he knew he was at least doing alright.
This continued during, what else, band introductions. When an absolute wall of noise arose from the crowd in honor of Taylor Hawkins, causing him to, childlike, hide his head in his stick-thin arms in embarrassment, Dave teased him that he had quite the little fan club going in Newark. He mentioned that if he made his fan club shirtless, he’d be a “fuckin’ millionaire.” Immediately Taylor shot back “I already am a millionaire,” pausing before quickly adding “…thanks to this guy right here, Dave Grohl!” cueing the loud applause for the band’s founder, lead singer, guitarist, etc. After it finally died down, Dave took to the mic and jokingly shook his head as if disapproving. “I really hate the attention,” he said, “it bums me out.”
During “Monkey Wrench”, introducing the lights-out digression that the band always inserted just before Dave screamed his signature lines, the front man shared an anecdote about going to see Prince in concert, who had done the same thing. Apparently Prince had reasoned that the audience seemed too self-conscious, looking at one another too much. Instead of all that, Dave said, we should just sit back and listen. Despite the fact that I’d been through this two times before, I made an effort to do just that. I stopped looking at individual band members, or even the faces of the crowd around me, and simply looked up: at the light fixtures, at the waving cell phone lights and tiny flames that stood out like stars amongst the darkened stands. I closed my eyes, even, simply appreciating the wave of sound that washed over me from the speakers. Yeah, I thought, maybe Dave and Prince were on to something.
The show closed with an encore, of course, but not before Dave and Taylor goaded the audience into asking for more songs – via night vision camera footage, projected onto the screens that hovered above the stage. After working their way up from “one more song” to seven, Dave pretending all the while that he simply couldn’t play that many, the front man triumphantly emerged from backstage, acoustic guitar in hand. Smiling, he marched out to the platform at the end of the arena once again.
Despite the band’s adherence to their, admittedly powerful, same set list for the majority of the tour, Newark was an occasion on which we got something a little different, and something definitely remarkable. New York had Joan Jett, but Newark had the reintroduction of Bob Mould – not just on “Dear Rosemary” but, for the first time in my experience, “I Should Have Known,” the heavy and emotional track off the new record that at least partially references the death of Kurt Cobain. It truly speaks to the power of the performers that after a high-octane set that encourages jumping, headbanging, moshing, and, of course, screaming, a sense of gravity could immediately descend upon the arena at the drop of a hat. As if a switch had been flipped, thousands of people quieted down and were fittingly mesmerized by the presence before them. The flashing lights and dancing screens were gone; they were replaced only by solid, stationary beams in various hues of blue and green, falling over Dave Grohl and Co. as they stood (for once) in place until song’s end.
And then, of course, was “Everlong.” It was here that Dave addressed something that I’d been wondering about since my first show: their ever-expanding catalogue and an already jam-packed set. “We’ll go home, like we always do, and make another record,” he said. “And then we’ll come back. And when we do, we’ll try as hard as we fuckin’ can to play for four fuckin’ hours.” He paused, and then added, with almost startling solemnity and sincerity, “Because anything less would be not enough.”
It was at this show, and at the end of this encore, that I became convinced that I was flattering myself to think that anyone cared whether or not I was going to the next show. As such, I decided not to hold up the “See you in Boston!” sign that I’d fashioned for this occasion. So it was to my absolute surprise that Pat Smear met my eyes after the encore and mouthed “Boston?!” I grinned back full force and yelled “YES!” — as if I would miss it for the world.