The big arena rock band booked in the small corner bar is typically a sign that either the heyday is over or a band is getting back to some roots. The latter is what Dave Grohl is onto these days with the launch of a new cable series and new album that are both about reconnecting to the places and people that were early inspirations.
Grohl and his band the Foo Fighters played to a crowd of a few hundred people at Cubby Bear Friday for a show that was live streamed online via Facebook. The reason is Naked Raygun, the early Chicago punk band that in 1983 at the Cubby Bear provided the first show Grohl said he ever saw that ended up changing his life. The fact that the band’s lead singer Jeff Pezzati joined Grohl onstage to sing “Surf Combat” not only confirmed the narrative driving these current projects, but it provided context that made good television. “Strangest moment in my life,” Grohl said.
The Foo Fighters performed two hours and 30 minutes that included new songs, all their hits, and surprise versions of “Surrender” and “Stiff Competition” by Cheap Trick sung by Foo drummer Taylor Hawkins with Grohl behind the drumkit. Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen joined the band for those, among others, and he frequently jumped onstage to provide some impromptu comedy for the night: “As hard as he rocks, he also smells,” he said of Grohl.
Despite the club setting, the band was relatively restrained as if playing more to the at-home audience than the one before them. There was an expected run-through of their catalog of hits that balanced power-pop (“Big Me,” “This is a Call”) and soaring arena rock (“Learn to Fly,” “My Hero”), as well as the unexpected cover — “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones. Producer Steve Albini, whose association with Grohl dates back to his Nirvana days, was toasted with “Up in Arms”; “One thing I learned about Chicago — There’s rules,” Grohl said. “But you can bend those rules a little bit, it’s all about who you know. And I know Steve Albini. He’s a [expletive] godlike hero.”
Grohl also injected a song from the band’s 1994 debut, the speed-punk “Weenie Beenie.” “That’s what we used to sound like,” he said.
A platform into the crowd gave Grohl the ability to get close but he finally made it offstage, through the crowd, and onto the side bar. With the band vamping the blues, Grohl dropped to his knees and played to the bartenders, then toasted the crowd, which was represented by a forest of raised arms gripping cell phones.
Late into the night, he admitted that the next time through town could be to headline Wrigley Field. Referencing that Naked Raygun show on the very same stage he was standing on, Grohl took a minute to soak things in: “All it takes for you to turn someone onto something that will change their life.”