What do you get for the go-go bandleader who has everything? An opening slot for the Foo Fighters.
What was advertised as a birthday party for Trouble Funk bassist Big Tony Fisher at the 9:30 Club on Monday night was actually a thinly veiled surprise show from hometown hero Dave Grohl and his mega-massive rock band, the Foo Fighters.
“I’m so glad I got to grow up here,” Grohl said from the stage while toasting Trouble Funk. “Because as a drummer, there’s no city funkier than Washington, D.C.”
Serving as the evening’s headliner and master of ceremonies, the Springfield, Va.-raised rock mensch crammed the evening with feel-good moments like this. But first, Grohl reminded everyone that he’s the greatest rock drummer alive.
He opened the show by keeping time for the Don’t Need Its, a band featuring bassist Darryl Jenifer and guitarist Dr. Know of Bad Brains, and vocalist Pete Stahl, frontman of Grohl’s pre-Nirvana punk group, Scream.
Together, the foursome blasted through the early Bad Brains catalogue, with Grohl punctuating some of the best punk songs ever written with distinctive brutality. It was easily the most thrilling and visceral performance of the night. After the high-speed bludgeoning of “Banned in D.C.,” Grohl dumped a bottle of water down his gullet and spouted it back skyward like a hirsute whale.
Stahl was a spirited substitute for H.R., Bad Brains’s somewhat unreliable lead singer, and at one point, he made a vague reference to this new band’s future endeavors. Maybe this wasn’t just a one-off gig? Either way, the Don’t Need Its T-shirts being sold at the merch booth were wearable bragging rights.
Trouble Funk came next, raring to provide Foo fans with a baptism in go-go. During a call-and-response segment, Big Tony shouted, “Where my Southeast crew?” Not a lot of cheers.
But the uninitiated couldn’t have asked for a finer crash course in Washington’s indigenous funk dialect. With timbales rumbling and horns blazing, the 13-piece band spent 80 minutes onstage carrying the torch for old-school musicianship, making its anthems, including “Pump Me Up” and “Let’s Get Small,” sound tidy and tight.
The 9:30 Club’s owner, Seth Hurwitz, joined the band toward the end of its set, sitting behind the drum kit for a version of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.” Considering the drummers who had already graced the stage, the man either has bottomless courage or no shame.
But like a good host, Hurwitz followed it up by grabbing the microphone and leading a birthday singalong in honor of Big Tony, who seemed thrilled to be performing for new converts. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” the bassist said. “This is the best birthday ever!”
Monday night wasn’t the first time Grohl and Trouble Funk shared a bill. Before bringing out his bandmates to close the show, Grohl said that his old hard-core band, Mission Impossible, once opened for Trouble Funk at the H-B Woodlawn prom.
There were other stories sprinkled throughout the night, too: How Grohl learned to play drums by pounding on pillows while listening to Bad Brains’s album “Rock For Light.” How the old 9:30 Club used to serve the bands pizza covered in so much pepper, no one would ask for seconds.
His stories made the room feel small, but his band made it feel stadium-huge. Grohl’s Foo Fighters might be the most accessible and well-oiled machine in rock-and-roll, and their songs were rousing and sentimental enough to trigger pumped fists and spontaneous group hugs.
They played the hits — “My Hero,” “This Is A Call,” “Everlong,” “Times Like These,” “The Best Of You,” “The Pretender” — often stretching them into high-decibel taffy, adding vamps, breakdowns, solos and more solos. And while Grohl spoke glowingly of the band’s new tunes, he refused to share any. (Rumor has it that parts of the forthcoming album were recorded at Arlington’s Inner Ear Studios.)
Instead, fans basked in the sparks between Grohl’s guitar and the drums of Taylor Hawkins, a man made of lean muscle tissue, shiny blond hair and gritted teeth that looked whiter than lightning bolts from the back of the club. Together, they sounded like BFFs trying to discover new ways of making thunder.
During “Monkey Wrench,” the duo flashed knowing rock faces at one another from across the room — Grohl was ripping through his guitar solo while walking across the bar.
So next time you’re ordering a drink at the 9:30, you can tell your pals that the Foo Fighters recently played here, and that Dave Grohl played right here.