Foo Fighters kick off stellar HBO series with Friday concert in Chicago

SHARE Foo Fighters kick off stellar HBO series with Friday concert in Chicago

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl lost his concert virginity more than 30 years ago at the Cubby Bear.

Summer vacation. The young teenager from Virigina was in town visiting family in Evanston. He and his cousin, Tracey, hopped on the L and went to Wrigleyville to catch local punk rockers Naked Raygun.

“I was just a kid with an Izod,” Grohl recalls about attending his first live performance in the new docuseries, “Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways.” “My stomach was up against the stage. The singer was on top of my head. It was loud as f*@k. It was out of tune … It just turned my world upside down. That night changed everything I knew about music.”

Chicago’s punk rock scene is one of several of the country’s “sonic highways” explored in HBO’s innovative, ambitious series, debuting at 10 p.m. Friday on the premium cable channel.

Grohl and his band traveled to eight U.S. cities, examining some of the music that emerged from that locale and talking to seminal performers who helped sculpt that sound. The result in each hour-long episode is two-fold: an illuminating look at a region’s musical fingerprint and a locally inspired song that will be on the Foo Fighters’ upcoming album, “Sonic Highways,” slated for Nov. 10 release.

HBO announced Tuesday that the band will be in Chicago Friday to kick off the launch of the HBO series by performing a concert at the Cubby Bear at 11 p.m., following a screening of the premiere. Tickets cost $20 and go on sale (must be 21 or older, two ticket maximum) on the Cubby Bear website starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Those who can’t be there in person can catch the show on a live stream on HBO’s Facebook page, An archived version of the event will be available on HBO platforms at a later date.

Grohl talked to TV critics this summer about the rationale that drove his band — founded 20 years ago in Seattle — to take this unconventional road trip for television.

“We could just go and make another record in a studio and hit the road and sell a bunch of T-shirts … but what’s the fun in that?” Grohl said. “Let’s go to tiny studios all over the country, tell the story of music from that city and what is it about each one of these cities that influences the music that comes from there? There’s a reason why jazz came from New Orleans. There’s a reason why country went to Nashville and why the blues went to Chicago. I get to interview all of these people and talk to them about that. I read through the transcripts and … I write the song. So the finale of each episode is a performance of the song, where you realize all of these lyrical references are from the show that you just watched.

“It’s not like anything I’ve ever done,” Grohl added, characterizing the endeavor as equal parts fun and pain in the ass. “I will never ever do it again.”

The Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters guitarist directed all eight episodes, proving once again that he’s as adept with the camera as he is with musical instruments. Grohl directed and produced last year’s Grammy-winning “Sound City,” a documentary film about the legendary California recording studio.

“Sonic Highways” makes stops in Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Chicago — the setting for the series premiere.

Chicago’s musical roots run far too deep to do them justice in an hour, so little more than passing references are made to the likes of Wilco, Kanye West and myriad others in order to drill down on a few specific subjects, such as blues and punk rock. Hat tips are given to Wax Trax Records and WTTW’s live concert series, “Soundstage,” too.

Someone who gets a lot of screen time — and has the personality and pedigree to justify it — is famed producer and audio engineer Steve Albini.

Albini’s North Side studio is where the Foo Fighters recorded their upcoming album’s first track, “Something from Nothing,” with an assist from Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen.

A something-from-nothing theme permeates the Chicago episode. Marshall Chess talks about the iconic record label co-founded by his Polish immigrant relatives, while New Orleans native Buddy Guy tells Grohl he came to the Windy City “looking for a dime but I found a quarter.”

It’s a thread that weaves throughout the series, which includes Grohl’s interview with a Chicagoan famous for something other than music: President Obama.

“I wanted him to talk about America as a country, where you have the opportunity to start with nothing, like Buddy Guy, make your guitar from strings and wires in your screen porch and then become a blues legend that’s inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors, or be a high school dropout from Springfield, Virginia, that winds up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [that would be Grohl], or being a kid from Hawaii that winds up being the president,” Grohl said.

“You tell the stories of these unsung studios and these unsung musicians, and that’s when people start feeling inspired,” he said. “That’s when you get a kid in his basement watching the guitar player of Naked Raygun say, ‘You shouldn’t feel intimidated by your heroes. You should be inspired by them.’ The idea is to inspire the next generation of musicians to fall in love with music — just as we did — to continue the lineage of American music.”

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