mardi, août 22, 2006

the pragmatic punk

I hate hearing the term "sell out" for any artist who goes from indie to popular. It is possible to grow up (and to have mainstream appeal) without losing yourself or your cred. And I think Dave Grohl's done it rather well.
Foo Fighters Unplug, and a Frontman Shows His Practical Side
Published: August 23, 2006
“The nicest guy in rock” is what the common rock journalist says about Dave Grohl. It’s probably the dumbest thought in rock. Niceness, from a total stranger who is also a rock star, is usually just the star’s way of closing his transaction with you more quickly. Let’s settle for something more measurable: Dave Grohl is one of the more practical guys in rock.

As the singer and bandleader of Foo Fighters, Mr. Grohl seems like a paperboy doing his rounds, doing his work assuredly, almost plainly. Even when he’s screaming his head off, he’s adhering to his craft, with a confidence that anyone can admire. His is a shapely scream, empty of terror. (Before he works up to it, his voice is strangely anonymous, in the Dave Matthews, regular-dude-with-feelings ballpark.) Mr. Grohl came from punk — he was the drummer in Nirvana, of course, and before that the Washington bands Scream and Dain Bramage — but he isn’t hobbled by credibility issues; he’s not doing what the Clash called “turning rebellion into money.”

His paper route is recording hit rock songs about personal feelings, and he seems to live happily in the middle ground between punk probity and song hooks good enough for an iPod hit. (And don’t forget the obvious fact: he was an incredibly good rock drummer who let go of drumming to stand in front of his band with a guitar.) He has figured out his game to an exhilarating degree. Practicality is his charisma.

Foo Fighters celebrated their 10th anniversary last year with a gesture that indicates how rock stars live large now. They built a new studio and recorded a two-disc set, “In Your Honor,” with rock songs on the first disc, acoustic songs on the second. And after a rock-show tour last year, the band is now performing the acoustic songs in theaters more appropriate to nuance. These songs are sweet, not great. And the acoustic Foo Fighters show at the Beacon Theater on Monday night didn’t come off as pompous, just as gold-plated common sense. “It’s all about the catalog, dude,” Mr. Grohl joked in between songs. Of course he’s right, and maybe it’s even kind of punk to cop to it. But is that all there is?

Mr. Grohl fronted an eight-member version of the band at the Beacon, and true to the ethos of “MTV Unplugged,” all the musicians were sitting down as they played. Their set was most of the acoustic songs from “In Your Honor,” with three guitars, violin, keyboards, bass, drums and percussion; one song by the group’s violinist, Petra Haden; and some old Foo Fighters songs — “Times Like These,” “Everlong,” “My Hero” — that were easily enough adapted to acoustic sounds. They weren’t stripped down at all; the opposite, in fact. They were just pop songs with acoustic guitars and no screaming, and they often showed Mr. Grohl as a student of other practical guys, like Tom Petty and Paul McCartney.

Shows like this, no matter who’s doing them, are opportunities for the star to sit in one place and talk directly to the audience. Mr. Grohl has no problem in that department: he’s almost too good at it, too ingratiating. His raps were fatuous — guffaws about members of the band or why he wrote a certain song — but his timing is good, and in delivering them he channeled many overwrought comic gestures from his friend Jack Black.

It wasn’t until one of the encores, the uneasy, dirt-simple “Friend of a Friend,” that he seemed to unwind. He described the circumstances under which it was written: not long after he had joined Nirvana and moved into a house in Olympia, Wash., with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. He took his time telling the story, didn’t turn it all into an absurd joke and then just played the song, alone onstage. What a relief.

Frank Black, who opened the show, is Mr. Grohl’s character opposite: he didn’t say a single word to the audience, just appeared alone with an acoustic guitar and bashed through a little under an hour of his own songs, with a rougher guitar tone and a more alienated view of human nature. “Sing for joy,” he sang, unsmiling, in a kind of kaleidoscopic murder ballad with that title. “If nothing else, sing for joy.”

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