So Prague was an early morning. It’s hard to gripe too terribly much, though, when you’re flying off to see the last real “stadium show” by one of your favorite bands, so that grogginess was fairly easy to disregard.
Still, even after I arrived in the city at long last (technically speaking), it took a while for things to sink in. The O2 Arena, and as such the hotel I was sharing with my friend and fellow music nomad, is a haul from the airport and somewhat from the city center as well. Thankfully, Foo Fighters had assembled a somewhat reasonable schedule (read: actually putting a travel day in between shows) so we had the time. And, for the record, it was totally worth it – we scoped out the Sun Clock, the city’s landmark bridge, and finally a heavy metal kind of dive bar just offset from the tourist route. That said, we turned in early, of course – we had a show to be first in line for.
Ah yes, the line. Whether anyone really wants to talk about it or not, this is the part that comprises the vast majority of the concert experience, regardless of the show or the venue (with, as you’ll recall from Boston, some exceptions). And this particular one bears a mention.
Especially given my somewhat rough experience in Codroipo, I was determined to leave as little to chance as possible in Prague; we were going to line up early. Sometimes that’s perfectly straightforward: first in line = first through the door = first to your spot. But what’s life without a few curveballs – in this case 18 of them?
In an interesting decision by event management, we found out that those of us with standing tickets (divided into two categories, normal standing and then standing “front of stage”, which we had) were to all be let in through doors that could also be used to let in massive crowds with actual seat reservations. For that purpose, there were several doors, one next to the other, 18 in all. To make this lining up experience extra fun, then, my friend and I would be let in the gate at roughly the same instant as 16 other people vying for the same spots we wanted. Considering the number of things that can go wrong in these scenarios (having your bag checked, metal detectors, slow ticket scanners, slow wristband distributors, or even someone simply not opening the door at the exact same moment as everyone else), it wasn’t the most thrilling prospect, but damned if we weren’t going to give it our best.
And at first, for once, it appeared that our best might actually be good enough – so good as to be almost uncontested, as a matter of fact.
In short, this was the weirdest line – or, as I will probably forever henceforth refer to it, queue – of my entire life, in that for most of the day there really wasn’t one. Sure, at my first tour gig in DC I’d been surprised to find myself at the front of the line at 9 a.m., but this was something else entirely. Hours crept by and my friend and I remained the first two, and then within the first five, and then within and the first ten. With only two and a half hours to go before doors at most it amounted to only a small group of people milling around in the sun. It’s funny – while some queues (see?) can be remarkable for their utter craziness, with people camping out for days beforehand and massive crowds at 6 a.m., this was the first time I’d sat back and thought to myself “Well, where the hell is my competition?”
Still, as always, that disappeared as we hit that terribly anxious period when you can see security being briefed and you know that the countdown to doors has come to an end.
Metal detectors were set up and security employees, in neon yellow vests, were placed at each door…except four of them, starting directly to my left. A guy who had been lined up since about noon at one of those doors went up to security and asked the guard (in Czech) what was going on. You didn’t have to speak the language to understand the answer: no one would be entering through those four gates. The people who were lined up there would have to go through another way.
This seemed both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side that cut out four people (not to mention the people immediately behind them) who I might be competing with for barricade space, but it also meant that, because mine was the open door closest to them, they’d be competing with me to get in with the first group at all. Fantastic.
I can’t describe much of went on next, because there’s always a kind of adrenaline-induced blackout that occurs once doors open. You’re trying to do everything as fast as humanly possible, hindered only by the speed (or, rather, lack thereof) of every employee that you encounter on the way there. In this situation it wasn’t just employees, either – we had to scan our own tickets not once, but twice in glitchy machines that sometimes needed to be persuaded to let you through their turn styles. That, the fact that I had a bag to scan, and the fact that maybe I can’t sprint down 3 flights of stairs as fast as other people all served to leave me running, panicked, onto the floor, dropping my ticket on the way and not bothering to go back for it.
I grabbed the first barricade space (on the right side) I saw, lunging for it before I realized that there was a half step there. So I tripped ungracefully onto the bar in the process, but that ultimately sealed it: two off right corner barricade was mine, and all that was left was the wait. (For those at all interested, that incident with the barricade step definitely resulted in sprained foot. Rock n’ roll, baby.)
Bob Mould was once again the opener, starting about half an hour earlier than scheduled (because, we assumed, the boys had a gig the very next day in Switzerland that they had to get to). The man himself was even quieter at this show than he had been in Italy, but the band’s sound was just as solid and the crowd was attentive (excepting the brief moment that Dave was spotted just off stage with his daughter, wearing huge crew-issue headphones, on his shoulders as they watched the performance). Still, he assured the crowd at the end of the set that he’d had fun. And if his enthusiasm while playing, and that of his band, is any indication, then I choose to believe him.
And then, of course, the sound check crew descended to work their magic. I was actually somewhat surprised at this, because the noise from inside the venue had been drifting outside all day to our waiting ears. Not only had we heard the typical “testing, testing” sounds of rapid-fire, patternless drumming or muffled vocals, but for the first time in my experience it was something even better: you could actually make out the strains of a Foo Fighters song.
At first we weren’t sure if it was a recording; they’d been playing random rock and pop songs inside all day to test out the sound system, not to mention the fact that what we were hearing sounded really damn good. Interest turned to overwhelming excitement, though, when we realized what it was they were (probably) playing: “Have it All”, from “One By One” (an album that the band almost never takes material from, as it’s associated with one of their darker periods) and “Winnebago”, a track that Dave Grohl recorded entirely himself before Foo Fighters had even formed. What in the hell did they have planned?
We’ll get to that, though. It turned out that the appearance of Dave’s daughter on stage wouldn’t be an isolated incident; the entire show evolved into a kind of Foo family affair. First it was a little girl who inquisitively crept up behind Taylor during the first few songs of the show, picked up a drum stick, and played with it absently as the band went on. Then Dave’s daughter was invited out, and Nate’s son was introduced (as were both of Chris’, who are apparently not much for the spotlight), and Taylor’s son followed, until the steps at the foot of Taylor’s drum kit were entirely claimed by kids holding up the “rock on” or “peace” sign with their hands.
The band was clearly enjoying the show all the more for having their kids involved. Dave noted that the origin of their song “Walk” was
family-influenced: “I wrote this song for my daughter,” he explained, playing the opening riff from the front of the stage. “I taught her to walk in the driveway of our home.” He looked back toward the drum riser, smiling broadly. “This one’s for you,” he said.
Still, it was back to business after a while (despite Taylor’s insistence that if his son “thinks this is work, we’re in trouble,”), as the band members each kicked their respective kids back off stage. “You guys think I’m a fuckin’ rock star,” Dave said with a shrug, “but I’m a fuckin’ dad.”
He laughed. “It’s too late, and they’ve had too much chocolate… ”
The show definitely wasn’t over for the rest of us, though. The start of every song was somewhat of a surprise, because we were honestly unsure what the set list was going to look like. Would they bring in the songs we’d heard at sound check? Would they repeat the “rarities” I’d heard in Italy? Would they simply revert to the set list they’d stuck to in America? As it turned out, it was some combination of the three.
“All My Life”, “Times Like These”, “Learn to Fly”, “The Pretender” – the greatest hits all pretty much made an appearance. Notable changes from the American set list at the last show had been the removal of “Long Road to Ruin” and “Bridge Burning”, the latter of which had usually opened every show.
Still, there were some surprises. They kept “New Way Home”, really bringing it to life with an extended breakdown-bridge before the final, screaming chorus. Later, though, they came completely out of left field again, with Dave pausing at the mic, looking to his band mates, and saying “Fuck it,” launching into the “In Your Honor”-era single “DOA”.
I go nuts for rarities anyway, but for this one it was personal – that song was one of the first by Foo Fighters that really made me sit up and take notice years ago. You hear songs you like growing up, but it’s really something special when you take a second and think to yourself “Wow, this band is really, really awesome.” “In Your Honor” was the first Foo Fighters album that I ever owned, with that song in particular a standout favorite. Even more than the guitars (there are a three in the band, after all) the drums are featured heavily in that song in particular, which gratefully really shone in the live performance. They sounded fantastic, regardless of Dave’s insistence that this was one of those times that the band wanted to play a song they didn’t know very well.
Spontaneity appeared to be a theme of the evening. After a Bob Mould-supported “Dear Rosemary” during the encore, the Hüsker Dü front man actually made his exit, meaning that the band wasn’t going to do “Breakdown” (something that the set list would later reveal was unplanned). They hemmed and hawed on stage for a moment before Dave looked to them all and asked, as if it was no big deal at all, “Do you want to play ‘Winnebago’?” And, thus, a song that Foo Fighters hadn’t played live since 1996 (roughly the last time they’d been in the Czech Republic) began.
I don’t care if that song went over the heads of every single casual Foo Fighters fan in the building;
it’s loud, aggressive, guitar-heavy and amazing live. Dave’s original basement recording, and various bootleg recordings, don’t even begin to do it justice. Even live you can barely hear the vocals over the roaring arrangement, but there’s kind of an art to that. And, anyway, it demands a kind of dancing/moshing/jumping/what have you that probably would have made it impossible to sing along, so maybe that was for the best. I for one wouldn’t have changed a damn thing.
Maybe it was how nuts I went for the song (or the one before that, or the one before that…) or simply because he’s an insanely nice guy, but it was around this time that Pat Smear looked up and shot me a familiar smile.
That’s something about Foo Fighters that I feel really privileged to know firsthand: they’re so very good about interacting with fans and acknowledging them as people. It may seem like a simple thing, but it’s a rare and meaningful one in my experience. I’ve seen Dave Grohl pick a familiar face out of a crowd of thousands and pull a face in that person’s direction, even as he shreds away in his guitar. For me personally, it really changes the feeling of a gig when it becomes not only going to see a band whose music, and live show, I love, but when looking up from the crowd means seeing a friendly face, too. For fans like myself who take it upon themselves to do some crazy things and go out on a limb or two, that can mean a hell of a lot. I respect the band all the more (if that’s possible) for doing what they do.
Anyway, the gig nonetheless rolled on. “Everlong”, of course, ended it all. On this occasion it came as even more of a bittersweet segue – after the absolute high of the thrashing “Winnebago”, even my friend to my left saw Dave switch guitars and said “No, no, not yet!” Unfortunately, though, there it was. The band said their goodbyes in their own ways, lingering for just a minute or so, and then it was over. As far as stadium tours go, though, this was not a bad way to go out.
At least for myself I could rest assured that Belgium – Pukkelpop Music Festival, meaning 12 hours in the sun vying for a barricade spot – was still on the horizon. And at this point, anything was possible.