Foo Fighters: the original Westword review

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The younger Dave Grohl.

Prior to seeing (and being knocked out by) the Foo Fighters during their September 8 Red Rocks show, I'd only seen the band once: back in 1995, during its first-ever Denver appearance. It'd only been a year or so since the suicide of Grohl's old boss, Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain -- and because Grohl had been the drummer of that trio, as opposed to a major creative force, no one was expecting much from his new project, which had yet to issue its first album. As a result, the review below, appearing online for the first time, puts more focus on the gig's headliner, onetime Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, and guest star Eddie Vedder than it does on Grohl. Even so, as you'll see, the surprising quality of the Fighters' earliest work was discernible from the start.

At the Red Rocks show, Grohl remembered playing the Ogden Theatre prior to graduating to larger venues -- but apparently this Mercury gig slipped his mind. Click "More" to get a Foo Fighters refresher course. -- Michael Roberts

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April 19-25, 1995
By Michael Roberts

When someone asked me last week if I had any interest in seeing Pearl Jam on its upcoming tour, my answer was emphatically negative: I told him I'd already seen the band three times -- to progressively diminishing effect -- and that was plenty for me. So imagine my excitement when I learned that Eddie Vedder was the not-so-secret guitarist on the Mike Watt tour, which stopped by the Mercury Cafe on Saturday, April 15. I had been planning to attend in order to hear highlights from Watt's first solo album, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, not another throat-ripping version of "Jeremy."

Fortunately, what I and the other bodies shoehorned into the Mercury got that night was not Pearl Jam in disguise: During the Watt set, Vedder, clad in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, did his best to remain in the background as a subtle accompanist, not a scene-stealer. But no matter how modestly Vedder intended this stunt, it couldn't help but change the evening in a fundamental way. Fame is like that. Clearly, the fan offering $70 a ticket too those lined up outside the club wouldn't have been there if Watt's guitarist had been a punk-rock mug from San Pedro.

Likewise, the throng would not have been so polite to the opening act, Hovercraft, had it not been known that its key members were Vedder and his wife, Beth. Mrs. Vedder turned out to be neither Yoko Ono nor Linda McCartney: The music she and Eddie made was competently played. Too bad it was also hackneyed and dull -- a thirty-minute-plus instrumental passage in search of a song that meandered across a rock-ambient backdrop while stereotypical visuals (shots of rockets exploding, etc.) flickered across a movie screen on one side of the stage. Before long, even star power couldn't prevent the audience members from chatting among themselves. At the tune's conclusion, lukewarm applause was interrupted by one listener's opinion of the band -- "Pink Floyd wannabe wanks!" Lucky me: The review that writes itself.

Far more interesting were Foo Fighters, the new quartet featuring Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl as guitarist/frontman. Supplemented by Germs veteran Pat Smear (who guested on the last Nirvana tour) and two members of the promosing Sub Pop band Sunny Day Real Estate, Grohl proved to be an able, if not exactly distinctive, vocalist and an engaging emcee. Not all of the songs were memorable, but tracks such as "Winnebago" and "Big Me" called to mind Nirvana circa Bleach -- that is, promising pieces by a group apt to get better.

And then there was Watt, who maintained his usual blue-collar ethic in spite of the fact that many in attendance didn't seem to have the slightest clue as to what he does. Anyone who's been paying attention to Watt's long tenures with the Minutemen and fIREHOSE knows his bass playing's always been closer to the sound Richard Davis got on the Van Morrison LP Astral Weeks than to that of a standard punk timekeeper. It was embarrassing, then, when the Pearl Jam-heads at the Mercury insisted upon trying to mosh and body surf to material like "Drove Up From Pedro" and "Piss-Bottle Man" -- and frustrating to hear frequent requests from whiners up front to "let Eddie sing one, Mike." The presence of Vedder, Grohl and Smear in the band cast Watt in the role of special guest at his own damn show and implied that the tour was a comeback effort, rather than the latest stuff by a still-vital artist. Watt ably fills the later role, as anyone listening last Saturday could tell. If only the audience hadn't been too busy staring at the guy with the cartoon character/corporate logo on his chest to hear a master at work.

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