Photos by Franz Mahr, Words by Brandon Wetherbee
Foo Fighters was the perfect band to open D.C.’s newest, biggest venue. It’s so big. Foo Fighters have gotten so big. What began as a one man band under the name Late! is now a 6-piece capable of easily selling 6,000 tickets in a day. More than 25 years after that demo, IMP’s newest home mirrors the Foo’s growth. IMP’s newest venue is so big.
Since Thursday, October 12 was the opening night of The Anthem (we’re not counting the super secret show for locals on Sunday or the less secret Andrew W.K. show on Tuesday or the not secret radio show for Foo Fighters fans Wednesday), the venue is still working out some kinks. Due to the excitement of the crowd and the attitude of the bands, all was forgiven. We did not share the same optimism of the venue and the bands. This is a review so we’ll use the Foo Fighters worse titled album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, to frame the remainder of this piece.
The most important aspect of any venue is the sound. The Anthem sounds great on the floor. Somewhat surprisingly, a sold out show (last night was very sold out) doesn’t feel that packed on the main floor. Was the mix good due to the Foos sound guy? The Struts sounded good so it probably wasn’t that. Was it IMPs system? Time will tell.
The second and third floor doesn’t sound as good but it’s far from bad. The only places we don’t recommend enjoying the music are the at the bars on the elevated floors. There’s not much you can do about sound bouncing off walls and echoing around.
Foo Fighters’ set was what you’d expect. 22 songs that could have fit 30 without the extended solos. They closed with “Everlong.” There were a lot of sing-a-longs. A healthy mix of singles from every era. Last night’s crowd was treated to “I’ll Stick Around” from the first record. No songs from the first record were played for the not-official-show the night prior. Therefore, last night’s show was better. At this point in their 20+ year career, it might be safe to say Foo Fighters are the new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The catalogue is so massive they could play 15 songs every night of the week and not repeat themselves. They have hits every few years that become part of the general music consciousness. They have a dedicated fan base that’s grown with each album. There are deep cuts played at smaller shows that give the older listeners satisfaction and nostalgia feels. Also, Grohl played drums on a Petty SNL appearance and we’ve obviously been thinking of Tom Petty.
Opening night means some technical difficulties. The bar registers went down early in The Struts set and stayed down for roughly 20 minutes. This wouldn’t have been an issue at other venues. Why? The Anthem is card only. Not cash only, card only. The legal tender you have in your wallet is no good.
Foo Fighters could use some more silence. The first record featured one musician. The second album featured four. The third featured three. Since then, the band has grown into a 6 headed monster. Everyone plays on every song. Even songs that begin with just Grohl on vocals and guitar, like last night’s rendition of “Big Me,” evolve into stretched out jams. Taylor Hawkins does not need another drum solo. The keyboardist does not need to be there. Less is more with Grohl’s songs and no one is telling the very nice man to silence some musicians. The only person that needs to be on every Foo Fighters song is Nate Mendel. Without his bass lines every Foo song from the last 10 years would sound the same. He’s the unsung hero of the band, hanging out in the background. Literally. He’s 20 feet behind Grohl and Pat Smear. Related, Pat Smear is the coolest Foo Fighter.
Opening band The Struts has more in common with Guns N’ Roses than Foo Fighters. They were put in a difficult and enviable position. They were not listed when tickets became available. No one was there to see them. For a band that’s opened for the biggest acts around the world (The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses), they knew their role. They set the table without offending for somewhat hometown heroes (Yes, Grohl grew up near D.C. but I really don’t understand the hometown tag. No one else came up in the D.C. scene and without leaving the area, there’s an argument that no one would know Grohl.).
You shouldn’t have to wait 30 minutes for a grilled cheese sandwich anywhere in a first world country. You will wait 30 minutes for a $10 grilled cheese sandwich that could use way more cheese at The Anthem. Once again, opening night made this somewhat forgivable. Venue food in D.C. is surprisingly not bad (9:30 Club, Black Cat, DC9) so we’re thinking this should be worked out in the next few weeks. Serving 6,000 people is a lot more difficult than 1,200.
People waited in line for 20-30 minutes to enter the venue. No one that arrived in a reasonable manner missed Foo Fighters. Everyone we spoke with was OK with the wait and thought IMP did a fine job bringing 6,000 people in the new venue. If you’re at a sold out Anthem show, we recommend standing on the second floor patio/ledge to see the massive lines and still-in-progress development. It gives you a good idea of just how big this place is.
God bless Foo Fighters reasonable merch prices. This is a call to every other band headed to The Anthem to make well designed t-shirts and sell them for $25. You will sell more, your fans will wear your gear and everyone will leave happier. When it costs a few dollars less for a shirt than two beers, you’re more likely to buy the shirt. The average concert shirt at bigger venues has been $40. That’s silly. Unless you’re Kanye, you can’t get away with this. Foo Fighters are raking it in and could charge much more. They kept prices low and sold good looking designs on a quality fabric. That’s grace*.
*The definition of grace is simple elegance or refinement of movement. I realize I am not using the word grace correctly. Neither did Foo Fighters. That album has such a bad name. “The Pretender” is a good song. Their rendition last night was also pretty good. Not as tight as the record but they like to go long to make every song seem like an anthem. Perfect band to open this place.