The Foo Fighters have all but perfected the acoustic performance at this point. Three decades into their career as the biggest rock band in the world, Dave Grohl and company know exactly what songs will have maximum impact when stripped down to their bare essence. ‘My Hero’, ‘Times Like These’ and ‘Everlong’ are often performed in part acoustically during concerts, and after having centred half of a double album, 2005’s In Your Honor, around acoustic material, the band embarked on an acoustic theatre tour to highlight the softer side of the band.
But the roots for a more restrained sound originally came from the 1999 album There Is Nothing Left To Lose. While the band’s previous effort, The Colour and the Shape, mixed dynamics, it still retained much of the punk-inspired post-grunge that the Foos had made their signature sound. There Is Nothing Left To Lose, on the other hand, dispenses with the heaviest material like ‘Stacked Actors’ and ‘Breakout’ relatively quickly, settling into a much calmer second half that takes on new wave, soft rock, and singer-songwriter styles. Funny thing about Dave Grohl: when he stops screaming, you realise that he can actually sing.
Recorded as a three-piece and meant to be a relaxing low-pressure situation after the near-combustion of the band, having lost guitarist Pat Smear and replacement guitarist Franz Stahl over the previous album’s tour, There Is Nothing Left To Lose allowed the Foo Fighters to settle into a more comfortable, less confrontational space. They hooked up with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes guitarist Chris Shiflett for the supporting tour, travelling around the world and eventually making their way to The Netherlands for a session at Wisseloord Studio for the programme 2 Meter Sessions just three weeks after the album’s release.
According to Grohl, the band didn’t expect to play acoustically and hadn’t really rehearsed or performed in that arrangement before. The relatively calm setting and more tranquil nature of some of the album’s material seemed to fit the acoustic feeling, however, and the band scrounged up some acoustic instruments. The only person plugged in is bassist Nate Mendel, and the session works as a great glimpse into his playing style, which is usually drowned out in the loud rock shows that the band usually play. Mendel adopted a more basic root-centred approach when he joined the Foos, but his playing here is more reminiscent of the melodic style he employed with his first band, emo legends Sunny Day Real Estate.
Grohl is in rare form as well, clearly slightly unnerved by the intimacy and lack of screaming he can do. His voice almost recedes back to a whisper, and it’s a stark contrast to the eardrum-shattering howls that he’s most known for. Drummer Taylor Hawkins mainly sticks to brushes since his main mode of playing is “loud”, recalling Grohl’s own peccary reduction in volume during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York concert. As the new guy, Shiflett holds back from being too flashy, augmenting the songs with delicate fills that keep the tracks moving forward.
The setlist is a time capsule for a band that is just starting to accumulate enough soft tracks to warrant an acoustic performance. ‘Floaty’, a Lush-inspired track from the band’s debut, gets a rare live performance, as does ‘Next Year’, which would rarely get into setlists after the year 2000 and hasn’t been played in any form since 2009. ‘Ain’t It the Life’ is much the same, having largely been retired since the ‘Skin and Bones’ acoustic tour in 2006. These are songs that just don’t normally fit into a Foo Fighters stadium set, but they fit in perfectly here.
The two other full songs are stalwarts: ‘Everlong’ and ‘Learn to Fly’. Even though its first appearance was on There Is Nothing Left To Lose and the band had only been playing it live for around two months, ‘Learn to Fly’ would have a permanent spot in the band’s setlists from here on out, having been played every year, at nearly every concert, since its debut. ‘Everlong’, of course, is the band’s signature song, having been played over 1,000 times. That makes it the band’s most-played track, and it’s not hard to see why. Grohl first played ‘Everlong’ acoustically at The Howard Stern Show in 1998, and it would be a favoured format for the song in subsequent years.
Watch a rare early acoustic set from the Foo Fighters down below.