If the 9:30 Club feels like a warehouse turned into a rock club, then the Anthem feels like an airplane hangar that mutated into one. And when it was time to officially open the venue — the centerpiece of the redeveloped Wharf on Washington's Southwest Waterfront, owned and operated by the team behind D.C.'s world-renowned 9:30 — the Anthem called in the only band with the local roots and international fame that could pull it off: Foo Fighters.
After a Wednesday "warm up" gig as part of the Anthem's soft opening, the band returned on Thursday night, ready to rock, officially. "It's gonna be a long night," frontman Dave Grohl warned the crowd before kicking off the band's 2½ -hour set. "We gotta break this s--- in." That's exactly what Grohl and friends did, treating the Anthem like a new leather jacket: turning something that glimmers with newness and making it feel as cozy as a childhood home.
Making the mammoth, multimillion-dollar venue feel intimate was no small feat. The brand-new venue can hold five times as many concertgoers as the 9:30, maxing out at a capacity of 6,000 but also with a flexible stage presentation that can put the cap as low as 2,500. On opening night it was set up for maximum capacity and the scale was a bit staggering upon entry. But with its layer-cake balconies and general admission pit with good sightlines, the Anthem shares the spirit of the 9:30, bringing concertgoers within arm's reach of stadium-size acts.
For the Northern Virginia-raised Grohl, the show was yet another homecoming, as he reminisced about eating jumbo crabs on the waterfront, listening to DC101 and WHFS, and visiting the old 9:30 Club, in its original F Street NW location. "I grew up in this city, I grew up down in Springfield," he explained. "Now, I get to come back home and play rock-and-roll for all you people, and I like it."
Foo Fighters are one of the last pure rock-and-roll bands that can easily fill a venue of this size, a distinction Grohl doesn't take lightly. "You know what I get asked every day? 'Is rock-and-roll dead?' " he mused, as he turned the bridge of "The Pretender" into a Chuck Berry riff. "Do you think rock-and-roll is dead? Do you love rock-and-roll? I love rock-and-roll."
The members of Foo Fighters play like they are singlehandedly responsible for keeping the heart of rock beating. Grohl led the way with his Pantene mane and Paul Stanley ad-libs, knocking out riffs while screeching and yeowing his way through the Foo Fighters catalogue. ("You know I like to scream a little bit" was the night's biggest understatement.)
That catalogue is now nine albums and 22 years deep, and the band played a song for every year of its existence, bracketing the set with one of its earliest singles ("I'll Stick Around") and its best one ("Everlong"). In between, there were old favorites ("Big Me," "My Hero"), monster hits ("All My Life," "Best of You"), and a handful from the band's new album, "Concrete and Gold."
The songs released during this decade suffer from terminal proficiency: They rock, sure, but after hearing a few, they start to sound the same, or the same as classic rock radio, with some Beatles here and some Thin Lizzy there. (And some Rolling Stones, too: The band covered "Bitch" with 9:30 Club and Anthem owner Seth Hurwitz on drums.)
For the past decade, as Grohl has turned into a rock-and-roll statesman, he has become obsessed with keeping the genre alive. Meanwhile, his lyrics have become more fixated on mortality, from the "I never wanna die" pleadings of "Walk" to the totality of "These Days." On the latter, he sings, "One of these days your heart will stop and play its final beat, but it's all right." Perhaps that acceptance of his own mortality puts the death of rock-and-roll in perspective: Despite the band's best efforts, rock-and-roll might die . . . and that's all right, too.
Correction: A previous version of this review incorrectly stated that the general admission pit at the Anthem is gently graded. This version has been updated.