2 Dec 2011: AAMI Park Melbourne, Australia
It was a battle for rock star supremacy that had all the makings of a classic tilt. From a well-lubricated crowd was eager to soak up their Friday evening to a cloudless sky, the stage was set for a memorable, if not incredibly lengthy night.
Sure, there were a few hiccups, but nothing that could totally ruin the atmosphere. Normally home to the Melbourne Victory, one of Australia’s premier soccer teams, the 30,000-plus seat AAMI Park was hosting its first concert. And the lack of experience showed; fans had to wait much longer than necessary to pick up tickets at will call and check their bags, while some fans were directed to the wrong entrances. Surely though, the anticipation which by 6:30 was at a feverish pitch only amplified these problems. In the future, it’s likely that AAMI Park will iron out the kinks and understand what it takes to put on a top-flight rock and roll show.
The card featured three acts known more for their entertainment prowess than their raw musicianship, yet when you’re playing to a five-digit crowd, this usually isn’t a bad thing.
First up was Fucked Up, the jubilant six-piece who are still riding high after the release of David Comes to Life, the punk rock opera which will likely top many year-end lists. As to be expected, their set relied heavily on David. Highlights included “Queen of Hearts” and “The Other Shoe”, tracks which certainly have stadium-rock potential considering their emotional weight and soaring choruses. But before 7 pm, with the stadium 1/5th full, the band struggled to find both their voice and their audience.
Therein lies the paradox of Fucked Up; their music contains enough heft that it grows with every listen, yet because of their ramshackle performances, they’re the kind of band who’s best to see in a small venue. Eccentric lead singer Damian Abraham tried his best to get the crowd involved, getting topless and revealing his hairy, 250-pound plus frame, but with the traditional barrier between the stage and the audience, the band experienced limitations. They showed ambition and provided the right amount of idealism needed to inspire a crowd. It’s a tad unfortunate, considering how pervasive yet uplifting their live show can be, but on this night, the band seemed to be fighting in the wrong weight class.
Comic-rock duo Tenacious D were up next. If Fucked Up were the epitome of an ambitious and entertaining punk rock band, then Tenacious D was the act on the card which served little more than novelty purposes. Perhaps chosen to keep the mood loose, the band looked still tired, bloated and lacked any and all originality throughout their set, which was nearly identical to the soundtrack to The Pick of Destiny. While Jack Black and Kyle Gass certainly have maintained their chemistry over their seventeen years playing together, on a night where younger bands strived to attain legitimate rock ascendancy, their faux-rock star approach acted as an hour long filler. It was an insult both to fans who had shelled out more than enough cash for a ticket and Fucked Up, who with a longer opening slot, could’ve certainly expanded their sound and won over the crowd.
By 8:30 pm, the sun had nearly set and the house was full and amped up for the Foos. Dave Grohl strutted onstage, already playing the addictive riff to “All My Life”. He showcased some impressive vocal chords for a 42 year old, screaming, wailing and essentially engaging every one of the 30,000 in attendance. It’s not easy to captivate such a massive audience, but throughout the Foo’s two and a half hour marathon set, Grohl proved with charisma and dominance why he is one of the world’s last true rock stars.
A massive catwalk cut through the middle of most of the floor, allowing Grohl to repeatedly leave the stage and engage the audience even more. Every riff became more pronounced and once again, as Grohl and Co. chugged through a heavy first few songs, it became clear that Grohl and the Foos possess more than energy than many bands half their age. It was impossible for any of the Foos to stand still, that is until “My Hero”, when the band seemed awestruck at the magnitude of the crowd, drowning the band out while singing the chorus to one of the band’s legendary radio-approved hits.
And that’s how the rest of the night rolled. The Foo Fighters would dive into their massive catalogue of hits, including “Learn To Fly,” “Monkey Wrench,” “This Is A Call” and “Best of You,” showcasing their knowledge on how to get to the top and stay there: energy, and lots of it. The crowd would respond in turn, becoming louder and louder as the evening progressed.
It only made sense then, for Grohl to try and get as close to the audience as possible. He applauded those seated far back in the nosebleeds, insisting that even though “You guys probably waited until the last minute to buy tickets,” the Foo Fighters “even play for the cheap seats”. He took to a rising stage in the middle of the floor, and working through a delicate, acoustic version of “Wheels”. Grohl spotted a barricade jumper and immediately had security bring the man up onstage. He introduced the man to a crowd, declaring his love for those in the cheap seats, before instructing the man to “Get the hell off my stage”.
The crowd ate up every second of it, and the Foos closed the night with arguably their best song, “Everlong”. Still, it was Grohl’s remark, standing in the middle of 30,000 people that resonated the most heavily. On this night, despite efforts from other acts to own the stage, no one could touch the energy and showmanship of Dave Grohl. Delivering punch after punch, it truly was the Foo Fighters stage.