When word got out that the Foo Fighters were in New Orleans recording at Preservation Hall, I figured it was only a matter of time before they popped up somewhere to play a show, far from the confines of their usual arena or stadium setting. They seem to like to do that–show up some place unexpected like a pizza parlor in California, the Bluebird Cafe in the Nashville, or the 9:30 club in D.C., and just relish in the joy of playing without pretense or pressure.
On the morning of Saturday, May 17, I got a text from a friend in the local rock band Bantam Foxes that the Foos were going to play at d.b.a. Dave Catching, with whom the. band just recorded in Joshua Tree, was playing there, and there was a “special guest” mentioned.
I texted another friend who was in town visiting, asking if she wanted to come with us. She immediately called me, having just visited with a friend who was working for the Foos’ previously announced HBO documentary that was filming in New Orleans. She told me that the Foos were definitely playing at Pres Hall that night, and we needed to get our asses down there.
We met up with the Bantam Foxes gang downtown on St. Peter and spent the afternoon day-drinking and waiting. At one point, we could hear and see through the shutters as Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins warmed up by playing uninterrupted for about 30 minutes.
Over time, the crowd began to grow and girls squealed as Dave Grohl emerged from the door of Pres Hall to catch a peek while the Roots of Music band paraded their way down the street. What an oddly quintessential New Orleans moment, right?
Around 8 p.m., things hit critical mass. Social media blew up with news of what was happening. Crowds began to fill the street. The word was out, and in an interesting and incredibly smart move, it became apparent that the Foo Fighters were going to play Preservation Hall, only instead of allowing a small crowd inside, they had flipped the room and were going to open the doors to the street and play to everyone.
At 9 p.m. the shutters and french doors opened, and out came The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. They tore through their standard set with their usual fire and brilliance, including a walk-on by Arcade Fire’s Win Butler for a darker than usual version of “Iko Iko.”
It’s amazing that music and musicians of that quality are so commonplace to us here that we can see what they do as their “usual.” How lucky we are.
From our vantage point, we could see Grohl and Hawkins watching and dancing behind their amps.
After a 30-minute set by Pres Hall, the Foos came out and immediately tore in to their canon of hits. “Times Like These,” “My Hero,” “Rope,” “The Pretender,” “Monkey Wrench;” the list just goes on and on.
For a band that isn’t in touring mode currently, they’re a surprisingly tight unit. Usual song arrangements gave way to mid-song jams, with (overlooked rhythm section) Hawkins and bassist Nate Mendel dropping into second line grooves that made you wonder if they’d been picking up tricks while in town this week.
Pres Hall drummer Joe Lastie’s kit remained onstage the whole show, and he sat in for a sinister, groove-filled version of “Skin & Bones.” He and Hawkins watched each other the entire time. Two drummers from completely different musical backgrounds able to speak that unspoken language and lock in, trading grooves and fills.
It’s a brotherhood/sisterhood that non-musicians may not get, but when those moments happen, it’s a special thing. I wish everyone could feel that, just once.
Grohl is a constant bundle of energy, sweat, screams, and head banging—often coming up to the barricade at the french doors for solos or to sing with the crowd, and always with a giant smile on his face. In fact, all the Foos seemed to be smiling almost the whole set, in particular the ever-jovial Pat Smear.
It’s incredibly refreshing to see a band who truly loves what they do. It’s not a job for them—it’s their passion. That’s something you see a lot here. Musicians who do they do, not always for a living or huge financial benefit, but because it’s in their blood. It’s in their lineage.
After two hours, the show capped off with “This Is A Call,” an amped-up track from their first record. What started as a fast, breakneck tune, diverted into another silky smooth groove as they were joined again by Lastie, Ben Jaffe and Clint Maedgen from Pres Hall, and an unplanned sit in by Trombone Shorty.
The song melted into a completely nasty funk jam, with Shorty blowing his head off, Lastie looking like Keith Moon in a formal suit, and everyone involved grinning from ear to ear, musicians and fans.
The song ended, and Grohl commented that there really wasn’t anywhere else to go after that. He was right.
Grohl and the Foo Fighters seem hell-bent on reminding the world that music is meant to experienced. Whether that experience is visual or auditory is irrelevant, but it’s meant to be connected with by other humans. That idea is so important in a time where the top pop music is all about how amazing the singer’s life is, how “baller” they are, how the party doesn’t start until they walk in.
It’s so great to see someone as big as the Foo Fighters reminding people that music is the tie that binds people together as a community and as a human race. It’s not about me-me-me, it’s about us-us-us—together in a moment, in a shared experience, singing as a group, taking care of each other as we press together in a street in the French Quarter to watch something that we can tell our kids about, that we’ll smile about each time we walk past Preservation Hall.
Additionally, I think it’s incredibly important to see rock bands embracing the cultural heritage of New Orleans. In a town so known for it’s jazz and funk pedigree, rock tends to be the red-headed stepchild.
People seem to overlook the importance of visionaries like Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cosimo Matassa, and all the important early rock ‘n’ roll pioneers who came from here, or cut some of their biggest and most important records here.
Jazz, blues, and country all mingled together around these city streets, generating early rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not solely New Orleans’ thing, but we’re a big part of it, and that lineage leads us all the way to here. I love seeing rock bands come here and realize that brilliance this city has, and how what it has produced has led them here.
It’s time New Orleans itself realizes that as well. Rock ‘n’ roll is in our blood, just as much as jazz, funk, brass or bounce.
Some say rock ‘n’ roll is dead. I refuse to believe that. It may go hibernate for a bit, but it’ll always come back. And a band like the Foo Fighters will always be there to remind you about how amazing rock can be, both in song and experience—whether it’s at Wembley Stadium to 90,000 people, or in a 200-year-old building in the French Quarter to a street full of screaming fans.