In May 2020, Dave Grohl shared a heartfelt essay about the Foo Fighters’ cancelled FedEx Field show, planned on July 4 in celebration of the 25th anniversary of their self-titled debut album. In The Atlantic op-ed, Grohl pined for the communal power of seeing live performances, writing from both the perspective of a lifelong concertgoer and also as the lead singer of the irrepressible rock band who will be both inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and receive the inaugural Global Icon Award at the MTV Movie Awards this fall. I only read half of the essay last May, became overwhelmed and started crying, and bookmarked it for when I could see my first rock concert again.
I finally read the article in its entirety on Friday morning. On Thursday evening, the Foo Fighters returned to D.C. for a sold-out surprise show at 9:30 Club. Announced at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the show sold out within a minute after tickets posted. (I was in the queue and part of a group text with several friends all trying to secure a block of tickets — no luck for anyone in our group.) Instead of filling out an entire arena of 80,000 as they planned last summer, the Foo Fighters packed America’s best concert venue with 1,200 of D.C.’s luckiest concertgoers.
That Foo Fighters were the surprise band wasn’t shocking to the many who predicted this on Twitter. The band has played at the I.M.P. venues 18 times over the years, including christening The Anthem in 2017 as well as playing previous surprise concerts at the 9:30 Club.
Before the show, the masked audience was buzzing with anticipation like so many atoms during the soundcheck, visibly and audibly excited to “celebrate and share the tangible, communal power of music” as Grohl wrote in The Atlantic article.
At 8:45, the band took the stage, with Grohl asking “Let’s sing a song together, okay?” before beginning an a cappella “Times Like These” — now feeling incredibly apropos with lyrics like, “It’s times like these you learn to live again.” Rami Jaffee created an atmosphere of churchly reverence with an austere organ introduction. The wall of guitars and blistering drums kicked in for the last two minutes of the song — a religious experience soaring up to the heavens and then crashing back to Earth for a blistering climax.
Over the course of the next three hours, the band played a 20-song set with a few surprises and nostalgia, giving way to a few new songs and covers.
The next few songs were heavy hitters and fan favorites: “The Pretender,” “Learning to Fly,” stampeding through “No Son of Mine,” forging through a swampy “Banging on the Ceiling,” sexing up a Paisley Park-worthy “Shame” with a trio of fantastic backup singers — all setting the tone for the concert.
After the crowd was warmed up, Grohl shared that this was “like a family reunion.” The three-hour set was dominated by their biggest hits, with Grohl sharing his love for D.C. in wistful interludes and humorous anecdotes between songs. From rhapsodizing about WAVA-FM to waxing nostalgic about Arlington fast food locale Weenie Beanie, Grohl took audiences on a sonic tour around the District.
At the family reunion, José Andrés sipped from the world’s largest glass of white wine in the V.I.P box with 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz, and members of Preston Gates Construction (who designed Grohl’s Alexandria studio where the band recorded their Grammy-winning “There is Nothing Left to Lose”) were in another roped off section. But everyone in the audience — from those who followed Grohl from his start in D.C. hardcore band Scream to Nirvana to Foo Fighters, to those seeing the band for the first time (there were even several kids in the audience) — was welcome, embraced and made family, if only for one night.
The bouncy title track “Medicine at Midnight” from their most recent 2021 record of the same name was heard live by D.C. audiences for the first time. The band transformed into its disco-loving alter ego the Dee Gees for a funky, fun cover of the Bee Gee’s classic “You Should Be Dancing” with a spinning disco ball scattering light above, and Grohl gulping Jägermeister to prepare for the falsetto. Drummer Taylor Hawkins took over lead vocal duties for Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” showing off his own arena-rock chops, and allowing one of rock’s great drummers to get back behind the kit to do some rapid-fire drum triplets. Punk legend Pat Smear bopped along in the background until leading “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Foo Fighters finished with a trio of fan favorites: “The Best of You,” “Monkey Wrench” and their sweeping finale “Everlong.” Before the last song, Grohl admitted that “Everlong” was the expected closing song and they weren’t going to disappoint. Everyone sang along, air drummed, held up cellphone flashlights and swayed together. And just as at a family reunion, someone will make a big announcement — an engagement or baby on the way — all this reminiscing led to the biggest surprise at this rock ‘n’ roll family reunion.
“So, for all you people who never got to see the old 9:30 Club, you’ll get to see that shit next door someday,” Grohl shared. “And let me tell you, if it’s the same vibe as the old 9:30 Club, you’ll see some real magic.”
Grohl also shared some of his favorite memories of the original 9:30 Club.
“Who remembers the old 9:30 Club?” Grohl asked. “That was our church. That’s where we got to see every f–king band. That’s where we all played first. That’s where R.E.M. played first. That’s where the Chili Peppers played first. That’s where Nirvana played first. Magic happened in that room.”
In a phone call the next day, I.M.P. Communications Director Audrey Fix Schaefer shared, “To have Dave Grohl announce we will open a venue that is a replica of the old 9:30 Club is icing on the cake. Last night couldn’t have gone better if it had been scripted in a movie.”
The new venue will be in the former Satellite Room next door and in a press release, I.M.P. promised that the unsavory aspects of the old space — rats and toilet troubles — will not be a part of the charm when the new concert club opens.
The trifecta of the 9:30 Club reopening, Dave Grohl heading back to D.C. for this surprise concert, and the announcement of the old 9:30 Club proved something heartening after almost two years of isolation, loss and fear.
You can go home again. And maybe it will be different, maybe some family has passed on, some old haunts are closed or replaced — but if there is family there, old memories, hearty laughs, a warm embrace, a shared sense of belonging and love, and a few happy surprises, it will be alright again.
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