When the Foo Fighters hit the stage on any given night, they only sort of know what will happen. Dave Grohl will make a set list, mapping out each gig's mega-length sets to include songs from each of the band's albums and a spate of raucous covers, but the group's guitarist, Chris Shiflett, says it's only good for about the first two hours.
"Things change on a dime," he says. "When we get into that final third, Dave will start cutting, adding and rearranging songs, or he'll do stuff in a different order. You have to stay in the moment the whole time. You don't want to be up there thinking about, you know, the room service. It keeps you on your toes." Shiflett laughs.
When the Foo Fighters kick off a new North American leg of their Concrete and Gold tour this week, their intention is to keep their fans on their toes as well. They've been touring in support of their ninth studio album for close to a year, and they've refined the new material. "Before the album came out, when we were doing a lot of festivals, we were doing really raw versions of the songs," Shiflett explains. "In the past few months, we've brought in some backup singers for the songs on the record that have a lot of layered harmony vocal parts. We've never really done anything like that before, and it sounds really good."
When Shiflett spoke with Rolling Stone on a Brazilian date of their current tour, he said the Concrete and Gold songs he likes playing the most right now are the crescendoing "Dirty Water," which he says the backup singers add a lot to, and the ceiling-banger "The Sky Is a Neighborhood." "It's evolved a little bit over the months of playing it live," Shiflett says. "Everything is a little looser and a little louder. It's gotten a little rougher around the edges, some of the parts have stretched out, the pauses are longer. We added an intro thing to it. It's just changed."
The band has also been adding in a few songs into the set here and there, just to see how they'll go over. "Dave tends to like to keep the show moving, but we'll play some different songs to gauge how people react," Shiflett says. "We threw in 'Make It Right' recently, which we haven't been playing much. We have a little jam room backstage where we can warm up and run through anything new once or twice just to get the dust off it a little bit. We play four or five new songs a night, I'm guessing."
The guitarist, who has been using some of his downtime to work on a new solo album, says the group has also amped up its production values since the last time they played in the U.S. The band members have a drum riser so big that when they toured South America earlier this year, many promoters wouldn't let them use it. "Taylor [Hawkins] is on a giant drum riser that goes all the way into the lights at one point," Shiflett says. "The production's the best I think we've ever had."
It all adds up to a display of the band operating at its maximum potential – literally the most of the Foo Fighters. And, according to the guitarist, it's the group at its best. "It's a long jaunt to play two-and-a-half or three hours every night," Shiflett says. "We've been on the road for the last eight months or so and I feel like we're in good form. We're hitting our stride, but we're not burnt out yet. People should expect to get their money's worth."