Foo Fighters 25th Anniversary: How First Avenue and Minnesota helped define Dave Grohl's new band in 1995
Twenty five years ago, Pat Smear was missing. The rest of the original Foo Fighters—William Goldsmith, Nate Mendel, and, of course, Dave Grohl—were backstage at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Without their punk-legend guitarist, they waited in a variety of styles: Grohl nervously bounced in place. Mendel sat with his bass, eyes closed. Goldsmith took off his clothes.
The word finally came in: Smear was sitting at the hotel watching Matlock. He arrived shortly thereafter, and the band tore through a 65-minute set to earn their star on the wall.
Rolling Stone's Chris Mundy was the journalist assigned to document the Foo Fighters' travels from Denver to Minneapolis, as well as prod Grohl for a good Kurt Cobain-related headline. The defining feature of the Foos' first tour (they were in a van that Grohl sometimes drove himself) devoted more than a few inches to Minnesota, including Goldsmith's bizarre, bucket-involved night at the aforementioned hotel.
(Side note: Grohl has become obsessed with documenting tour-van culture. It's the theme of the Foos' current 25th anniversary tour, which doesn't include a Twin Cities date ... yet.)
At the time, Grohl was supposedly on the ropes in a tireless heavyweight bout against the #scene: Why did his new band's album cover feature a gun? Why did their hit song include the lyrics, "I don't owe you anything"? How much on a scale of 1 to 10 did he hate Courtney Love?
"There does come a point where it's totally out of your control," he told Mundy.
'Nobody expects Grohl to be Cobain'
This was not the band's Minneapolis debut. They'd already played First Avenue three months earlier as an opener for Mike Watt (that bill included Eddie Vedder's Hovercraft project, and inspired guest list requests from actors Dan Akroyd, Cameron Diaz, and Keanu Reaves, all in town to film Feeling Minnesota).
But the Foos' August headlining gig led the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Jon Bream—now a local journalism legend—to describe FF as a "well-drilled, powerhouse band" that put on an excellent show despite "a few weak songs" and "inconsistent" singing from Grohl. The set included an early version of the 1997 radio hit "My Hero," which came across as "startingly plain," per Bream.
This was Bream's breakdown of Grohl's vocal tendencies: "There was the AC/DC scream (annoying), an alterna-pop James Taylor croon (interesting) and a Bob Mould-like surf amid the power-pop surges (that's it!). No matter the style, Grohl was passionate but not always confident."
Anyone who's seen the band live in the past 25 years has borne witness to that trio of personalities. The confidence has obviously come around.
In 1995, Bream's hot-and-cold analysis of the band seemed to be common across the industry. As part of a review of the eponymous record that fall, the Los Angeles Times' Richard Cromelin noted "a major void" due to Grohl's "sketchy and fragmentary lyrics," and offered this stinging conclusion: "While nobody expects Grohl to be Cobain, he needs to find a way to make it clear that he's somebody."
'A disturbing forecast of the road ahead'
Another local media member who saw Foo Fighters play that '95 show at First Ave: Reed Fischer. In 2012, he tangentially recounted his concert experience after a Minnesota Wild prospect tweeted a homophobic slur (it's a long story). Fischer, currently an editor for Minnesota Monthly, was then writing for CityPages.
"The band once possessed a firepower that was uniquely their own," he wrote 17 years after the gig. "It was before post-grunge had fully set in, and songs like 'This Is A Call' from the group's self-titled debut were oddly shaped, and actually reverberated with garage-like rust and dust."
The general thinking from critics is that the debut album—which was almost 100 percent written and tracked by Grohl, and which the band was touring behind in 1995—has rarely been topped by its creator over the past 25 years. Most would say the follow up, 1997's The Colour And The Shape, is their most complete and inspiring body of work. Over the next decade-plus, they adopted a full-on arena-rock persona, complete with shiny singles and less-than-memorable albums that outsold just about every one of their contemporaries. The 2010s—kicked off by the surprisingly good Wasting Light—were packed with gimmicks and nostalgia trips.
One song that Fischer specifically remembered from '95 is "Big Me," which launched 1,000 Mentos in the Foos' direction. For him, it represented the beginning and the end of the band's charm.
The cut "proved to be a crossover hit and a disturbing forecast of the road ahead," wrote Fischer. "And now the band has about 19 songs that are virtual carbon copies of it."
Foo Fighters headlining setlist at First Avenue (Aug. 4, 1995)
Setlist courtesy of Setlist.FM.
1995 Foo Fighters headlining tour route (North American leg)
Dates courtesy of FooFightersLive.com.
July 20, 1995 - Vancouver, BC, Canada (Commodore Ballroom)
July 21, 1995 - Seattle, WA (The Weathered Wall)
July 22, 1995 - Bremerton, WA (Kitsap Pavilion)
July 24, 1995 - Portland, OR (La Luna)
July 26, 1995 - San Francisco, CA (The Fillmore)
July 27, 1995 - Los Angeles, CA (The Roxy Theatre)
July 28, 1995 - Los Angeles, CA (American Legion Hall)
July 29, 1995 - San Diego, CA (SOMA)
July 31, 1995 - Phoenix, AZ (Electric Ballroom)
Aug. 2, 1995 - Denver, CO (Ogden Theatre)
Aug. 4, 1995 - Minneapolis, MN (First Avenue)
Aug. 5, 1995 - Chicago, IL (Metro)
Aug. 6, 1995 - Detroit, MI (St. Andrews Hall)
Aug. 8, 1995 - Toronto, ON (Phoenix Center)
Aug. 9, 1995 - Montreal, QC (Foufounes Electriques)
Aug. 11, 1995 - Boston, MA (Avalon)
Aug. 12, 1995 - Providence, RI (Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel)
Aug. 13, 1995 - New York, NY (Academy)
Aug. 14, 1995 - New York, NY (Ed Sullivan Theater) [Late Show with David Letterman]
Aug. 15, 1995 - Philadelphia, PA (Trocadero)
Aug. 16, 1995 - Washington, DC (Capitol Ballroom)
Aug. 17, 1995 - Washington, DC (Black Cat)
Aug. 18, 1995 - Columbus, OH (Newport Music Hall)
Aug. 19, 1995 - Cincinnati, OH (Bogart's)
Aug. 21, 1995 - Memphis, TN (New Daisy Theater)
Aug. 22, 1995 - Nashville, TN (328 Performance Hall)
Sept. 7, 1995 - Atlanta, GA (Masquerade)
Sept. 8, 1995 - New Orleans, LA (Rendon Inn)
Sept. 10, 1995 - Houston, TX (Numbers)
Sept. 11, 1995 - Austin, TX (Liberty Lunch)
Sept. 12, 1995 - Dallas, TX (Deep Ellum Live)
Sept. 14, 1995 - Salt Lake City, UT (Club DV8)
Sept. 15, 1995 - Boise, ID (Bogies)