Dave Grohl is the kind of affable, down-to-earth rock star who you might not expect to indulge in grand gestures like, say, having a special throne built for him to sit in while performing. But that’s just the extravagant stage prop he unveiled on Saturday night at Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium, and it wasn’t just because Foo Fighters were celebrating their 20th anniversary. It was necessary: Three weeks ago during a concert in Gothenburg, Sweden, Grohl fell off the stage and broke his leg.
Grohl had to cancel shows after the injury, but he refused to miss the 4th of July hometown anniversary gig. So here he was, sitting on an elaborate throne adorned with lights and speakers, built by the band’s road crew based on a ridiculous drawing Grohl made while laid up in the hospital high on Oxycontin. His right leg was raised and proudly displayed in a purple cast with his toes poking out, while the rest of Grohl’s body was in constant motion over the course of the band’s two-hour set.
In May, Foo Fighters closed out David Letterman’s farewell broadcast with a performance of “Everlong,” the band’s signature song and a personal favorite of the late night host’s. And in the weeks since then, they’ve taken to opening shows with a song that had usually been nestled towards the end of setlists. While Grohl wasn’t able to run up and down the catwalk in front of the stage, the throne proved itself to be mobile, and started moving forward in the middle of the song.
July 4th was not chosen arbitrarily as the date of the band’s anniversary gig – it was the day that the Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut album hit stores. And the album, which is rarely represented in the band’s setlists beyond the hits, was celebrated in a chunk of Saturday night’s set, including deep cuts like “Alone + Easy Target.” Before “For All The Cows,” Grohl brought out his mother Virginia for a brief cameo, explaining that she once told her son that the song reminded her of Richard Marx (it was a compliment).
The set was relatively light on the band’s latest album, 2014’s Sonic Highways, though the anthemic current single “Congregation” was a highlight of the night. Instead, the entire rest of the bill was something of an extension of the HBO series of the same name that documented the making of the album. The other eight acts that played in RFK throughout the afternoon had all been interviewed by Grohl on the show, and represented several of the cities the docuseries centered on: New Orleans jazz hero Trombone Shorty, New York rap legend LL Cool J, D.C. rock upstarts RDGLDGRN, and so on.
What became clear over the course of the day was that while July 4th was an important day in the Foo Fighters’ history, the date of the concert dovetailed nicely with the patriotic celebration of American music implicit in the Sonic Highways project. Instead of throwing together a bill of other alternative rock acts, Grohl assembled a diverse bill in which his act was the only one fronted by a white man. Joan Jett and the women of Heart brought the stadium to life with their classic rock staples, and bluesmen Buddy Guy and Gary Clark, Jr. provided the day’s most memorable guitar heroics.
Foo Fighters saved the plum last opening slot of the day for some hometown heroes, as Go-Go institution Trouble Funk gave the audience a crash course in Washington, D.C.’s most unique indigenous sound with a set that reached all the way back into the band’s late Seventies beginnings. A funk band with relatively little national profile got to play to a full stadium of rock fans, all because that’s the melting pot that Grohl envisioned.
Before an acoustic performance of the 1997 hit “My Hero” later in the night, the Virginia native dedicated the song to all the local musicians he’d grown up around, noting that he was inspired to pursue his musical ambitions in the first place because “in Washington, your heroes were your friends.”