Blast intern Morgan Lawrence followed the Foo Fighters from Washington, to New York, to Newark and back home to Boston. This is part four of her four-part series.
I sat on the bus from Newark to Boston, writing in my journal for the entirety of the ride even as I admired the fall scenery that passed. I listened to “Word Forward”, a bonus track from the Foos’ Greatest Hits album, for a solid 4 hours of that trip. With its lyrics of “Years that I’ve wasted/These IOU’s/They’re just fuckin’ words”, that song had been one of many that had motivated to take the leap that was this tour and dive in for all I was worth. On this occasion it felt more like I was clinging onto something, or was hoping for reassurance. Even as I headed off into another city, preparing for another show, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was leaving something behind that I wasn’t quite ready to.
Fittingly, I suppose, the experience of the Boston show was different in nearly every way. First of all, I had actually slept in my own bed – something that felt foreign even after a relatively short time. Second, I was already familiar with every way to get where I needed to go, and where to get coffee before setting out on our journey in the early hours of the morning. Third, I didn’t have to find someone with a car so that I could store my bag. That in itself was a whole new relief to which I was unaccustomed on this tour.
Despite the shared anxiety between my line buddy and myself about maybe, just maybe, not being first in line (we’d overslept past my ridiculously early alarm by about 45 minutes), we unquestionably were. To a frustrating extent, in fact: we found ourselves making laps around the outside of the TD Garden, and even through North Station itself, trying to make sure we were lined up in the proper place. Soon a construction crew there to repair the West entrance came up to meet us, engaging in some snarky back-and-forth before agreeing to ask security if we were in the right place. Thankfully, we were, and two other people soon came to join the short stub of a line that had begun to form.
Within about two hours – essentially nothing, for those familiar with my line sagas thus far – we were met by event staff who told us, essentially, to go home. They handed out numbered wristbands, told us to be back by 5 pm, and sent us on our way.
It was 9 am. My friend and I looked at each other in bewilderment – we’d written off the entire day, ready for the long haul. What were we supposed to do now?
As it turned out…not much of anything. It’s actually funny how it works out: you spend your entire day in line, with no idea what’s going to happen (Will they open four doors instead of one? Will people cut? Were you at the wrong entrance the entire time?) and you get nervous. Apparently, though, when you’re not going through the usual motions, sitting in your designated spot for hours on end because you’re guaranteed your spot when you return to line, that doesn’t help at all. Hell, in our case, it just made us even more nervous. We resigned ourselves to drinking copious amounts of coffee in a nearby café and wandering the North End of Boston a bit, all without straying too far from the TD Garden. We kept this resolution despite the rain and the cold, both of which increased in intensity through the day, just in case.
It did have some payoffs. We ran into a few familiar techs, even some that I’d had no idea would remember me from my tour so far. It was an interesting feeling, being recognizable as a fan rather than just a face in the crowd. Being on the other side of it, though, I understood. For every new city I traveled to not knowing exactly what to expect, and all of the thousands of anonymous people I encountered once I got there, it was really nice to see one or two familiar faces. I really enjoyed the conversation that my friend and I had with one tech in particular that evening, hiding from the rain near the venue’s back entrance. This was going to make ending tour all the more difficult, I realized: no longer seeing these people, with whom I could relate about something as amazing as the Foo Fighters, every other day (or, sometimes, every day). Everything was about to go back to normal, technically speaking, but after everything that had happened, that reality felt….different.
This theme continued throughout the entire show. Well, that is, after we’d stood in line in the cold and driving rain for about an hour, only to have to frantically explain that we were first in line and should therefore be let in before people with #50 wristbands. That was par for the course. As was, wonderfully, my right side corner spot on the barricade. Fitting, I thought, that it should end where it all began – in more ways than one.
Actually, this is something I should probably address. This show, for lack of a better phrase, felt so very different because it was all so familiar. I stood in the same place, staring at the same lights, listening to the same pre-show mix – all things that had been there through all of my travels. For everything new that I had experienced thus far, once I passed through the arena doors and made that final stretch to the barricade, it was as if I hadn’t left the previous show, the previous city, in the first place. Of course it goes without saying that every show was a totally unique and wonderful experience. I cannot stress that enough; none of it felt run-of-the-mill in the least. It had, though, come to feel familiar.
It was strange, then, watching The Joy Formidable perform with an air of finality. Being an opening band, I was accustomed to their set feeling like just the beginning of everything – starting the process of growing anticipation – the communal kind of excitement that builds to bursting before the main act walks onstage. While they took very little time away from their set to commemorate the end of the tour, that reality was still very present through it all. They took it in stride, though, and for that I give them a lot of credit. They performed with even more enthusiasm than I could remember. “Whirring” aside, drummer Matt Thomas’ intro into “Cradle” was always enough to give me pause. I may have a bit of a drummer bias, but he truly stole the show during this number – his quick, loud, and slightly syncopated rhythm taking the spotlight before the rest of the band joined in. It’s always a great feeling when a musician, or a band as a whole, is able to arrest the attention of the audience based on show of skill alone, and this was definitely one of those moments. Still, within a short time, it seemed, they walked offstage as quickly and purposefully as ever when it all came to a distortion-and-feedback-filled close.
And then, of course, was Social Distortion. As usual, guitarist/vocalist Mike Ness poked fun at the band’s longevity from the get-go, greeting the crowd with “This definitely isn’t our first time in the Boston area.” There’s a reason they’ve lasted so long: every night I’d seen them so far on tour they’d delivered a seamless performance, and this was no exception. They sailed through the set list they’d apparently settled on in Newark, Ness and guitarist Johnny “2 Bags” Wickersham trading places sidling toward the edges of the stage, leaning over as if suddenly weighed down by the guitars on their shoulders as they traded solos. Mike Ness maintained his unique rapport with the audience, all swagger and swears, as he recounted the roots of one of rock’s most famous covers: their rendition of “Ring of Fire”. “I remember in 1989 I decided that Social Distortion was gonna record a Johnny Cash song,” he began. He paused briefly, throwing out his wrist and the microphone with it, as if unable to keep still. “I remember some people were like ‘Whaaaat?’, and I said ‘That’s right, motherfucker, I’m gonna record a Johnny Cash song!’.” He tilted his head at the microphone, the smirk undoubtedly on his face evident, even, in his voice. “‘Why are you gonna do that?’ ‘Because I fuckin’ want to!’”. I doubt a single soul in the audience questioned that this was exactly how any conversation of the kind had gone.
And then it was the main attraction, the end-all-and-be-all, the crowd-hysteria-inducing Foo Fighters. “Bridge Burning” started it all off as it always did, flashing lights and a whirl of noise engulfing the arena as it did. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the first line of this song absolutely captivated me when I first heard the album, and continues to no matter how many times I hear it. Live, of course, it’s another experience entirely, with Dave Grohl’s signature scream sounding from mere feet away. The thing is, though, that when the instruments drop out and it’s just Dave and the microphone, there is something else at work: all of the force that the crowd is feeding back to him. This occasion was no exception. As the lights went up and he rushed the edge of the stage – clutching the mic, his guitar swinging across his chest from the momentum – his voice was but one joining the thousands of others that rose up with it. It was as if all of the pent up energy of the day, of the hours spent inside the arena during set changes wondering idly when the band would come on, had finally found its release valve. I’d always thought that few forces in the world could match the raw power of Dave Grohl when he digs deep and screams a line, but this came pretty damn close.
Of course, as the leading man would soon reassure us in his own special way, there was a lot more to come. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been on tour all fuckin’ year long, playing these scorching one hour and thirty minute sets,” he teased, unable to continue as the booing of the crowd drowned him out. The Foos’ tradition of marathon sets seemed to be anything but a well-kept secret. The front man continued unaffected, though, drawing out this inside joke for as long as he could. “It’s fuckin’ killing me. BUT,” he said, holding up a hand as if to silence an entire stadium with a wave, “because this show fuckin’ sold out faster than any other show in America, I figure….” he paused dramatically, the cheers of the crowd drowning him out before he managed to deadpan “….we’ll play an hour and forty-five.” And up went the roar again. For the next few minutes he played auctioneer, daring the crowd to ask, via cheers, for more time. Two hours? Two and a half? No, this show was going to be three hours. “Why you gotta make me work so fuckin’ hard?”, he huffed.
He kind of had a point – but the clear joy on the faces of Grohl and his bandmates throughout the, as promised, 3-hour set that followed made it look like the easiest thing in the world. Let me put it this way: I hope that one day I can throw myself into my work with the same kind of energy, enthusiasm, and happiness that this band exhibited night after night, including this one. At any given moment Grohl was back to his normal antics of sprinting across the stage, dancing side to side at the microphone, or jogging down the runway that ran the length of the floor. Drummer Taylor Hawkins was never still for more than a few seconds, proving there was more than a little truth behind the running joke that drummer’s “0% body fat” was, as Hawkins himself put it, “because you [Dave] make me play for 3 hours!”. The Grohl-Shiflett solo-off was as fiery and impressive as ever, the lead guitarist hamming it up and engaging the crowd on his brief stops around the stage. As someone who had been battling a creeping exhaustion for the past few days, my own participation involving a mere fraction of the energy they were putting into their shows, I was definitely impressed. Sure, maybe they hadn’t gotten up at 5 am for days running, but they’d gone on every night to play a hell of a show. You can’t command an entire arena without putting something out there, and these guys went above and beyond.
Sheer quality aside, there were a few things that made this performance just a little different from the others. During band introductions, Dave enthusiastically noted that keyboard player Rami Jaffee finally got his first sign of the tour, held up by a fan to my right. He rushed over and grabbed it, giving it to Jaffee, who feigned being moved despite the grin on his face. In terms of the set list, as the front man had mentioned in Newark (which I had secretly hoped would turn out not to be true), the previous night’s show had been the last stop for Bob Mould. “Dear Rosemary” still held its spot, however, which gave me the unforeseen opportunity to hear the song sans Mould for the first time. I’ll first mention that I adore that song, and hearing it live is wonderful and emotional and all of that stuff. But I will say that hearing both versions (and knowing what it sounds like on the record) made me realize what a fantastic choice it was to have Mould on that track. He adds something to it that’s difficult to explain, or that perhaps doesn’t have a technical term attached to its meaning at all. At the expense of repeating myself, this version wasn’t better or worse than any other. It was just, somehow, different.
Of course, though, there are some things that never change. Perhaps that’s what was most remarkable about this show after all: you put these guys on a stage and they’re going to play a set list, jam to their hearts’ content, and make fun of each other in front of thousands of people. That’s their show, and, last show or not, that’s exactly what happened. Grohl explained, for instance, that Nate Mendel couldn’t show prove how much of a “badass” he was that night because “bass solos were outlawed, like, 10 years ago”. About the aforementioned Rami sign, he once again chided the fan who held it, saying “It’s nice to see you put so much fuckin’ effort into it, too. Obviously, Rami, you’re very appreciated here.” He followed this with “Can I keep this?….Thanks,” tossing the piece of poster board carelessly over his shoulder before he picked it up and gave it to his rightful owner. Hawkins whittled down his usually wordy introduction of the leading man, keeping his heart in it nonetheless, calling Grohl “the greatest musician of our time, and the greatest friend of my time.” The front man replied “I love you too….but I really hate the attention…being a rock star totally sucks. I want to go back to making pizza at Shaky’s, like I used to.” He effortlessly and inexplicably went on to describe how criminal it was for Shaky’s to cook fried chicken and pizza in one place (“it’s, like, a kosher rule,”) before launching the band into Hawkin’s lead-vocals track “Cold Day in the Sun”. All of this within about fifteen seconds, and before we in the audience really knew what was going on. That was kind of their style, after all.
I guess it makes sense, then, that this show seemed to pass in a whirlwind. Of course there were several moments that stick out to me – personal ones, sure, and utterly unique. During the band’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “In The Flesh?”, for example – a song I’d spent a portion of my idle time that day learning – Hawkins always takes the lead vocals when the guitars drop out, and Grohl scans the audience for someone singing along and points them out. On this occasion, as Hawkins (and those of us in the crowd who knew it) sang the lyrics “If you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes/you’ll have to claw your way through this disguise,” that person was me. Grohl walked purposely toward me, mouth open in a half-grin, half silent yell as he charged away at his guitar once more. And finally, at the end of the show, when “Everlong” had ended and the feedback of Grohl’s guitar and the screams of the audience filled the stadium to bursting, Pat Smear walked to the edge of the stage and mouthed “Australia?!”. I shook my head (regrettably), thought for a second, and shouted back “But maybe Japan?” “Japan,” he mouthed back, and laughed.
And then…it was all over. The show, my tour, everything. My friend and I hung back by the stage but were soon shooed out by security, before we could even say goodbye to the techs we’d grown to know. When we headed out into the rain and, finally, into the crowded underground T stop, I held a used Taylor Hawkins drum stick in my hand and was kind of wondering what had just happened – or, rather, what was going to happen next.
It’s hard to explain how time stretches out when you’re traveling, or when you’re living every day with a purpose. It felt like those past few days – just shy of a week – had lasted a month at least, and I knew that going back to “normal life” was going to be an incredible adjustment. Post-concert depression was surely on the horizon, as was all of the work I had to catch up on from my days spent off-campus. I was now almost thoroughly broke, and without something to look forward to months, weeks, days ahead as I had since I’d planned this journey. Yeah, it was going to be rough.
But now, with the privilege of a little time distancing me from that first night back in my dorm with “real life” just hours away, I can say that gratitude and happiness definitely override all of those things. I can turn on my computer and see a picture of the crowd at Madison Square Garden and myself in the front row, cheering and smiling under the stage lights. I can open my desk drawer and see my “general admission” bracelet from that show or any of three others. If I’m so inclined, I can open my Ticket Stub Diary and see the guitar picks that once belonged to Pat Smear, Dave Grohl, and Johnny “2 Bags” Wickersham. Perched next to my desk lamp, just below the rows of photos tacked to my wall, are Taylor Hawkins’ drum sticks. I’ve kept up with the friends I made at every stop. And most importantly, I walked away from it all with the hope that I can do this all again.
And at some point – even if it’s not this March, and even if I’m not sure when – I know that I will.
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