It’s hard to think of Friday’s super-surprise Foo Fighters show at the Black Cat as a homecoming for frontman Dave Grohl. Beloved as the Northern Virginia expat and Los Angeles resident is around here, he hasn’t ever given those left behind a chance to dwell on his absence. Grohl has long seemed to be everywhere at all times. He’s as much a fixture on televised awards shows as on the red carpet. His band just spent a week-long residency on David Letterman’s “Late Show.” His own TV series debuted on HBO two weeks ago. It’s as if the Foo Fighters are a franchise, like Ringling Brothers or the Harlem Globetrotters, where two or more troupes using the name travel the world at all times to meet demand.
Grohl sure did his best to meet the demand that folks around here have for his product. He rewarded all the people who dropped everything Tuesday afternoon to race to the Black Cat to stand in line for hours to get tickets by delivering three hours of sweaty, fun, kinetic hard rock you just had to sing along to. From start to finish, Grohl banged his head and flipped his hair and screamed. Oh, did he scream. “Learn to Fly,” “My Hero,” “Times Like These,” “Everlong” and pretty much all the biggest Foo tunes — and every one of ’em got played before this was over — started slow and with Grohl crooning a lilting melody. But by the last couple of verses, the band was going at full volume and full tilt with Grohl’s shrieking atop it all. One can imagine him trying to sing bedtime lullabies to his kids, only to resort to his default whisper-to-a-scream format: “Rock-a-bye baby/On the tree top/When the wind blows/THECRADLEWILLRAAAAAWWWWWKKKKKK!” (Could it be mere coincidence that Grohl’s band back in his D.C. days was named Scream?)
Grohl is also entertaining as all get-out, and his between-songs banter did nothing to harm his reputation as the happiest hard rocker extant. He made the fans feel lucky by acknowledging, rightly, that the Foo Fighters could have gigged at RFK Stadium instead of spending the night at a cozy rock club, adding that the smaller venue lends itself to a looser show. “The Black Cat gig is a lot like the Springfield keg party,” said Grohl, acknowledging that the NoVa keggers of his youth still influence his rock-and-roll tastes. That explained the series of ’70s covers Grohl led his group through, including Cheap Trick’s “Stiff Competition” (sung by drummer Taylor Hawkins), Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love.”
The Foos performed a new tune, “The Feast and the Famine,” which had oodles of local references, including a line about “the corner of 14th and U,” an intersection about 100 yards from where Grohl screamed it. And he brought the members of local trio RDGLDGRN onstage to promote the current local scene and to add manic dancing to the rock mix.
The current tour of smaller venues is intended to promote Grohl’s HBO series, “Sonic Highways,” and for the Black Cat appearance, the TV show served as the opening act. In the program, Grohl visits a different recording studio in the United States each week and delivers a précis on the local music scene there. This week’s episode, which was shown on large monitors throughout the club, focused on Arlington’s Inner Ear studios and D.C.’s punk rock and go-go oeuvres.There were lots of vintage clips of local musical icons, including Chuck Brown and Bad Brains.
Opening acts often have a tough time keeping a crowd’s attention, and the viewing audience seemed to lose interest when “Sonic Highways” delved into the social and political causes that punk bands here took up in the 1980s. But the program occasionally got people giggly, as when Minor Threat/Fugazi/Dischord deity Ian MacKaye confessed that he once preferred Ted Nugent over the Ramones or the Clash. And the mood got sweet and downright communal as the mini-
documentary ended and Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” played over the closing credits. Lots of folks whose adolescences were soundtracked by that and other harDCore tunes — as the 45-year-old Grohl’s was — stopped talking and sang along. That wouldn’t happen in any other town.
McKenna is a freelance writer.