This week’s Throwback isn’t just a throwback. It’s a chance for me to live out my dream of being a rock journalist, that most archaic of professions, hanging out at clubs backstage with my little notebook or sitting at my desk with a stack of that week’s hot new releases. In actuality the only thing I really did was attend the Foo Fighters concert up at the State Farm Center Wednesday. But hey, it was my first concert in…wow…20 years, unless you count hearing the sounds of that Journey cover band drifting through my open window during Bagelfest.
It looks like I’m not the first person who’s worked at this paper to have this particular dream. Here, from the Nov. 6, 1986, Journal Gazette, is this entertainment page article from Rickey Furguson, who also made the trip to the Assembly Hall to get back stage and “catch up” to the world’s second most important set of siblings after Mario and Luigi, The Bellamy Brothers.
My first ever rock concert would have been, fittingly, to see Ozzy Osbourne play up in Bloomington on his “Ozzmosis” tour, which if you don’t keep track of such things was right in between his early '90s “No More Tears” resurgence, and his early 2000 “re-resurgence” as a reality TV star. I included a press clipping of Ozzy from that era, just as a reminder that Photoshop was still a thing back then. If that square jaw of his was actually on stage, I couldn’t tell. We were so far up in the nosebleeds that by the time the sound of the instruments got to us, the roadies were already packing everything up to the tune of Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out”, I’m sure.
Around that same time, ‘96, or ‘97, I saw The Dave Matthews Band, twice, both times at the Assembly Hall. If you aren’t in the demographic for that to mean anything, let me put it to you this way: At the time, there wasn’t a bigger “your college girlfriend who pronounces her name as ‘mee-gan’ listens to this” band than Dave Matthews. If you happen to be an EIU student and you are living in either Gabbard or Saunders buildings in University Court, try this test: Scan your walls for any leftover scotch tape fragments…a Dave Matthews Band poster was there.
Then in rapid succession in 1997 I saw The Who on their “Quadrophenia” tour at Deer Creek, and Yes, on their “Open your Eyes” tour, at that hotbed of rock activity the Murat Shrine, both classic rock bands that couldn’t possibly have less cultural cache in the mid-90s unless you happened to be a total nerd, which I was. Leaving the Yes concert, the finale of “Starship Troopers” still ringing in my head and us debating the quality of the keyboard solos, I had no idea at that moment that that would be the last concert I would attend until, again, 20 years later.
My friends hate when I do this kind of thing, but let me offer a bit of perspective. Seeing a concert by a band that put out their first album when I was in high school should make me feel old, but when I was a teenager of the ‘90s I remember my dad still liked the bands he liked in the ‘70s. So if there was nothing “wrong” with him still grooving out to Grand Funk Railroad or The Doobie Brothers then, there’s nothing wrong with me doing some (slight) in-chair head banging to the Foo Fighters now, in a public forum.
And while I didn’t headbang per se, me and my friends came mighty close, although it was more of a sustained full-body “bop” with an occasional slightly more aggressive fist-pump when the “rocking” hit primo levels. And lest you think I’m not following proper stadium seat rock concert protocol, I stood for all three hours of the show. Did that force the people behind me to stand up? Perhaps. But if the band plays for three hours, I stand for three hours. Thus is the rock concert social contract. Oh, and I held my little notebook and pen through the entire show, making little notes about the setlist and for this column. Lest you think that’s dorky, it’s got to be no more so than people in the rows right ahead of us refusing to experience the concert through their own eyes, but through the screens of their phones, tapping icons furiously to let everyone on their social media that they were at the concert. Kind of made clapping hard, though, I’ll give you that.
The Foo Fighters touched on just about all the “hits” that everyone in the nearly to-capacity venue could have hoped for, including a slow-burn sing along version of "My Hero" that eclipsed the original..although they didn't play my deep-cut wishlist song (“I Am a River”). And while they seemed a tad self-conscious about the new material, the live setting brought those songs an energy and detail missing a bit from the current record. The band made a funny impromptu attempt at covering Van Halen’s “Jump” (egged on by their touring keyboardist); invited a fan (perhaps a ringer) on stage for a near spot on cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” (forgetting the final verse); and in a moment that tickled me to no end, frontman Dave Grohl asked the audience, “Haven’t we been here before? Like, didn’t we tour here with the Red Hot Chili Peppers once?” which, if you remember the ‘90s, is an accurate way for a band who’s traveled a lot to benchmark for where they are in time and space.
Near the end of the encore, one last song to go, Grohl announced that they never thought they’d still be performing music 22 years later after their first album. Afterwards, filing out of the State Farm center at a brisk 12:30 a.m., I couldn’t help but wonder what I thought I’d be doing 22 years down the road from hearing “This is a Call” on the radio for the first time on the way to “Doc Stone’s” Econ class at MHS. I’m pretty sure he’d still think he’d be buying Foo records because he’s a loyal guy to his interests, but I’m not sure he’d ever think that he’d be seeing them live, nine albums later, and would have an actual column in his local newspaper to be able to talk about it.
And then, at the moment when I realized, “hey I know how to end this week’s column,” all those deep thoughts went out the window when my friend Vanessa, arguably more of a fan of the band than I am, let out all my hot air by asking me a very simple question, “Why in the world didn’t you ask for a press pass?” (Takes out pen, crosses out profound thoughts). Geez, everyone’s a critic.