Words by Ross Bonaime, photos by Farrah Skeiky
Ever since the announcement of Big Tony’s Birthday Celebration on April 1st, it seemed like it would be too good to be true, a well thought out April Fools joke, that Foo Fighters could ever be the “special guest” listed on the poster. It’s been about two and a half years since Foo Fighters held a show in D.C. and that was at Verizon Center. So a performance from the band that isn’t even touring at a venue a fraction of the size they’re used to seemed both highly likely and almost unbelievable. Regardless of what would come in the night, we all knew that we would be seeing a show at the very least hosted by Dave Grohl, featuring music that meant the world to him and that would be worth admission alone. Little did we know – even if we could try to predict – how amazing Big Tony’s Birthday Celebration would actually be.
Grohl started his evening as master of ceremonies where he began his career: behind a drum kit, with The Don’t Need It’s. The band consisted of Grohl, Pete Stahl, the lead singer of Scream, Grohl’s band prior to Nirvana and Darryl Jenifer and Dr. Know of Bad Brains on bass and guitar, respectively. This newly created band slammed through the music of Bad Brains, loud and heavy and completely badass. Seeing Grohl behind the drums is an incredible reminder he might be the greatest drummer of our generation and Stahl is a powerhouse with these songs. Who knows is The Don’t Need It’s will perform more than just this one show, but dammit, they need to.
Next up was Trouble Funk, with several of its members – including Big Tony – coming out in Happy Birthday glasses. The thirteen member band gave its audience a great burst of funk, with songs like “Let’s Get Small,” “Pump Me Up” and even getting Seth Hurwitz, owner of the 9:30 Club, to come play drums for them during “Play That Funky Music,” before Hurwitz led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday.” The about hour-and-a-half set was incredibly fun, but at times you could tell the audience was waiting for Grohl to come back onstage, a shame considering how great Trouble Funk are. Regardless, once they were done, Big Tony proclaimed it the best birthday ever and said that Grohl would be back with a special guest.
Grohl took the stage around 11:15, stating that sometimes one show ain’t enough and that sometimes, you have to have two fucking shows. It’s always wonderful to see Grohl perform at local shows, getting to hear his experiences of the area and what it means to him. He talked about learning to play drums by listening to Bad Brains and opening for Trouble Funk at a prom. Big Tony’s name might have been in the event’s title, but clearly, this was also a dream night for Grohl as well.
Grohl then said he thought he’d play a couple songs before we all went home. Oh, did he say a couple songs? He meant a couple hours. By singing the opening lines of “Times Like These,” everyone’s predictions had come true, as the members of Foo Fighters joined Grohl on stage one by one (hey, that’s the name of that album!) as the crowd went nuts. Especially exciting was hearing Foo Fighters perform “Arlandria,” a perfect song considering Grohl’s VA roots.
Grohl mentioned that they rarely had played any shows in the last two years, but this was the best practice they could have, which considering how incredible they are having not toured in awhile, they don’t need practice. The set spanned the entire career of the Foo Fighters, from their early days with “Big Me,” to songs off There Is Nothing Left to Lose, which was recorded in a basement in Alexandria, to about a third of the songs coming from their last album, 2011’s Wasting Light.
In the latter half of the set, the Foo Fighters went all in with the awesomeness, first dedicating “Money Wrench” to Hurwitz, who would buy pizza overloaded with pepper for the bands he liked and to the old 9:30 Club, which he called a shithole with the biggest rats he ever saw. During the song, Grohl ran into the crowd – which allowed me the opportunity to actually touch the hair of rock god Grohl himself – then climb on the 9:30 Club bar, take a shot, then slay though the song before returning to the stage.
Ending the set was a solid chunk of greats, “This Is A Call,” followed by two of my favorites: the near perfect “Best of You,” then the building power of “All My Life.” But c’mon, we all knew that wouldn’t be the end, as a few minutes later, the Foos returned to the stage. After returning with “Dear Rosemary” and “Breakdown,” Grohl talked about how their working on their new album, which is almost done. He said it’s unlike anything they’ve ever done. During ‘Dear Rosemary,” they did have a more improvisational, extended sound to the song, which makes me wonder if they might let their new songs breathe a little. Of course, I was hoping we might get to hear some of this supposedly amazing new material, but Grohl shot down out spirits by saying we “ain’t going to fucking hear it tonight.” Oh well, there’s always next time, which Grohl says will be very soon. Of course, they have to end with “Everlong,” maybe the band’s most beautiful and still incredible song.
At 1:15 AM, the Foos left for good, leaving me and everyone else wanting even more and a taste of what’s to come for them. Having only seen the Foo Fighters in large stadiums before, seeing them in a more intimate club, where I can literally reach out and touch members of the band is insane. I’d rank it up there as one of the loudest and greatest shows I’ve ever seen at the 9:30 Club. 24 hours later, my ears are still ringing. We should all be so lucky to have a birthday party that fucking great.
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