STORY BY CORY WOODROOF | PHOTO BY ERIKA GOLDRING, EB MEDIA
After a wayward thunderstorm rained on the Pilgrimage Music Festival’s parade in 2018, one could argue that the Foo Fighter’s Sunday headlining set for the fest’s 2019 edition serves as a delayed rainbow cranked to 11.
For the duration of their roughly two-hour set, beloved front man Dave Grohl and his merry band of noisemakers gave the Pilgrimage organizers a glimpse at what happens when the festival goes off without a hitch.
It’s what happens when you bring in a globally adored rock outfit with at least one hit someone can enjoy, and they deliver on ark’s load of energy, showmanship and singalongs.
The Foo Fighters are a safe bet for any music festival, and Sunday night, the safe bet paid off.
Grohl and company got things started off “All My Life,” the Grammy-winning main single of their 2002 effort One by One, with concertgoer aplenty belting the opening licks.
Of course, the crowd did the same thing for “The Pretender,” the lead single off the band’s 2007 critical and audience hit Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.
The Foo Fighters, as rock bands always do in these types of sets, embellished the song with a roughly ten-minute version if it, with opportunities for response, elongated guitar solos and moments for folks to catch their breath before the final, defiant “Who are you?” chant at the supposed Pretender at in the lyrics.
It’s a bit redundant to ask a crowd of thousands at a music festival, “Do you want some rock and roll?,” as Grohl did numerous time to start the show, but it’s also kind of shrewd and knowing. Of course everyone in attendance is going to get some. That’s the point; it’s an easily-deliverable promise.
It would soon be followed by “Learn to Fly,” a favorite for many from the late 90’s, and head-banger “Run,” by far the best song from their latest effort, 2017’s Concrete Gold, with Grohl offering very little wordplay in the middle.
“We’ve got too many songs,” he joked, commenting on the band’s 25-year-and-going run. “We can’t stop in-between.”
Well-known songs like “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” “Times Like These” and “My Hero” were soon next, including a little time for drummer Taylor Hawkins to get a drum solo on an elevated platform and a run of “Sunday Rain,” another one from Concrete Gold.
Every song got exactly the response the band would’ve hoped for from the adoring fans, but it’s almost automatic at this point.
The show works like clockwork because the Foo Fighters are professionals. They’re one of the last high-caliber arena rock bands with a multi-generational fan base and singles with crossover appeal for chart radio working right now.
You don’t survive all these years without being tremendous for what you do and having garnered trust from the fans to keep coming back.
When you say there’s something in this show for everyone, that’s not at all an insult. On the contrary, it’s about as high of praise as you can offer to a group who has been around for as long as Grohl’s band has, and one that has maintained their relevance, quality and eager-to-please performance style.
Just look at “Walk,” the title credit song to the first Thor movie and an infectious foot-stomper that rallies against, essentially, the universe, mortality and The Man (TM) in equal glee and thunder.
Like most great rock songs, you’re never exactly sure what the actual song is about, but darn it, if you don’t feel it in your bones. They don’t need to prod you to join in and yell the song’s screaming chorus and bridge; “I never want to die! I never want to die!” gets everyone on board.
Pilgrimage has staked itself as an all-appeal music fest, and it mostly lives and dies on getting these globally-known rock and country artists with a little flash to their name. In this regard, booking the Foo Fighters is a half-court three at the buzzer.
Their shows are perfectly calibrated to cater to the Day Ones who appreciate “back in my day” jokes about MTV and celebrate to hear an oldie-but-a-goodie like “Hey, Johnny Park!,” which the band has added back into its current set list.
They also get the younger crowds invested by playing the songs their parents played for them, or that they discovered in the myriad of places one can find a Foo Fighters hit.
You could argue that more classical rock music isn’t quite connecting with younger audiences en masse like it used to, but the Foo Fighters do a pretty decent job of bridging that gap.
As the sent went on, the group tossed in 2014’s “Congregation,” a song with civic pride, being that Grohl wrote the song after a week spent in Nashville for their concept album Sonic Highways.
After going soft with an acoustic round of “Big Me” and a bit of humor about how their efforts to make that music video at the band’s start wound up getting them pelted with Mentos (you had to be there), they closed with the big ones, “Best of You” and “Everlong.”
If you’re the Foo Fighters, you either open or close with the latter, one of the great rock ballads of the 90s and perhaps the easiest of their songs to sing to, and you don’t forget the former, which has inspired countless memes for its brash-yet-catchy use of the phrase “the best” and Grohl’s loud vocals, and, of course, a strong song in its own right.
That’s what fans of the band want, and a little fan service at a growing music festival never hurt anybody.
Though it lacked the bizarre bravado of seeing an injured Grohl rock on his makeshift throne/parade float like he did in the band’s fall 2015 “Break a Leg” stop at Bridgestone Arena or the unforgettable intimacy of the band’s surprise 2014 Halloween show at the Ryman, Sunday’s set still satisfied, like all the Foo Fighters shows do.
They’re a rare miss, almost like catching The Mousetrap on London’s West End. It’s the same thing every time, but each experience is special, if only because Grohl and friends know how to cover all their bases and make sure everyone leaves with a happy face and most of their favorite songs in the bag.
Caring works. As cheesy as it is to say, the Foo Fighters have never stopped caring about the music, about their fans meshing in with the live presentation, about the energy it takes to pull off one of these big rock shows. The more they care, the longer they’re run of headlining festivals will go.
It’s a mostly-excellent set from a band who has done this plenty of times, and it’s the type of quality Pilgrimage will want to make consistent in the years ahead to further make roots in the festival scene.
No, you can’t predict rain, but you can predict the Foo Fighters.
More headlining payoff like this, and Pilgrimage will find its niche and thrive in the years to come.