Foo Fighters are issuing a collection of rare, early demos for Record Store Day tomorrow, but that’s not the release that Dave Grohl originally wanted to put out. His original idea was a live recording of the band’s first gig.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of both the group’s debut album, Foo Fighters, as well as its first performance. The show took place for a small group of friends and family on February 19th, 1995 in downtown Seattle, and Grohl has long been in the process of looking for a bootleg of it. “There’s a tape, we’ve been searching for that tape for fucking years,” he says. “Somebody has it. I think I know who has it, but someone’s got it and we’ve been trying to get it, and that’s actually what I wanted to release – but we just couldn’t get our fucking hands on it.”
As far as how the show went, the frontman – who is this year’s Record Store Day ambassador – still remembers the pressure he felt to get it right. “It’s a funny thing when your new band decides to play in front of people,” he says, leaving out the fact that it was also his first gig since Nirvana. “At first, it’s terrifying, and we thought the most comfortable way of easing into being the Foo Fighters would be to have a keg party and wait until everyone was wicked fucking drunk and then start playing these songs that no one’s ever heard.”
Regarding the venue, sometimes billed as the Boathouse, Grohl says it was at a spot called the Marine Building. “I don’t think it’s there anymore – actually I know it’s not there anymore because we fucking helped tear it down, but that’s another story,” he says with a laugh. “But it was just off the highway where a couple of [bassist] Nate [Mendel]’s friends lived in these lofts, I think illegally, and one of them was big enough that we could put our gear in there and have a party and we decided that would be the perfect place.”
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The reason why he wanted a low-key first concert was because of the buzz surrounding the lineup – which included his Nirvana bandmate Pat Smear on guitar, and Sunny Day Real Estate’s rhythm section (bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, the latter of whom left the group in 1997) – and he wanted to ease into things. “There was a lot of interest right off the bat, and that scared us because we hadn’t done anything yet,” he says. “We started getting interview requests the minute people found out we were a band. We didn’t even have anything to talk about yet, except for the past, and we didn’t want that. We wanted to do something new and we wanted to feel new again. So, the loft party seemed like the perfect place to start.”
That night, the group played “basically the whole first album,” as well as “Winnebago” (from Grohl’s Pocketwatch cassette release) and “Podunk,” a B side on the “Big Me” single. “I remember it being such a huge relief that we just made it to the end and then it was maybe a month later that I heard the recording of it – and I was fucking mortified,” Grohl says with a laugh. “I thought we sounded great and I heard the recording like, ‘Ohhh . . . that’s the Foo Fighters? We’ve got to practice.'” He laughs.
Despite his memory of the recording, Grohl is still seeking out a copy of the recording. “It’s kind of like some Raiders of the Lost Ark shit,” he says.
He also still looks back on the group’s early days fondly. “Still to this day, if I look over at Pat or look over at Nate, I still feel like the Foo Fighters that started in William’s basement 20 years ago,” he says. “I really do. It might be a stadium now and we might have a fucking HBO series or whatever, but we’re still us.”
The band will be celebrating 20 years this summer with a special, all-day July 4th gig in Washington, D.C. with a gig spotlighting some of the people who appeared in the band’s HBO series Foo Fighters Sonic Highways, including Buddy Guy, Gary Clark, Jr., Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, LL Cool J with DJ Z-Trip, Trouble Funk and Trombone Shorty. The concert coincides to the day with the release date of Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut.