Chesty’s Blue Collar Tavern has live karaoke for Saturday night. But just a couple of miles down the road, it was Record Connection that could lay claim to having the better entertainment choice. The longtime area record store in Niles — with the sign out front advertising the availability of “records, tapes and compact discs” — had scored a Record Store Day concert featuring the Foo Fighters. Fans were able to gain admission to the special show by pre-ordering the band’s Record Store Day vinyl EP — limited to one per person, capped at 150 people total. The event was a throwback in a number of ways — for one, the diehard fans of course camped out at the record store the night before the pre-sale with some fans waiting as long as 18 hours for their opportunity to score the golden ticket. Conditions weren’t too bad — the store allowed the fans to sleep in their cars once they had been marked down for being in line and at one point, Foo Fighters management had Kentucky Fried Chicken delivered for everybody in line. A nice gesture, but it was only a greasy prelude to the rock 'n' roll goods that were just around the corner.
Flash forward to Saturday morning and the scene in Pinetree Plaza was pretty laid back. People had lined up and were waiting to get into the space where the concert would be held — an empty storefront close to the actual Record Connection location. The local Dunkin’ Donuts across the parking lot had been seeing a steady stream of fans coming in and out to order food — and mainly, use the bathroom facilities.
Once fans were let inside the space, they found themselves in a setting that was certainly intimate — accessorized with various vinyl records hung from the ceiling, Foo Fighters posters, old event posters from the area featuring vintage bands like Duke Jupiter and Foghat — and even a platinum cassette award for Bone Thugs N Harmony. The pre-show music was a Foo-tastically appropriate mix that included “Red Barchetta” by Rush in the running order. Thumbs up.
Right at noon, as advertised, Dave Grohl and his fellow Foo Fighters came strolling onto the makeshift stage and wasted no time getting down to business, tearing into “White Limo” from their Wasting Ligh
t album, setting the tone early for what would be a blistering 10 song hour-long set. Grohl’s longtime partner in crime, drummer Taylor Hawkins, sat behind the kit wearing a tie-dyed Ohio T-shirt that wouldn’t last long as the temperature inside continued to rise — record store staffers had turned on the air conditioning shortly before the show began, but it would still be an appropriately sweaty rock 'n' roll experience for all involved.
By the time the band hit the fourth song of the set, “The Pretender,” from Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace
, Hawkins had shed his Buckeye State-branded clothing and was sweating profusely. Grohl, meanwhile, was leaning into the crowd as he riffed away on what would end up being an extended version of the track. “I think this is the perfect opportunity for everybody to do solos,” Grohl told the crowd. “We sometimes do it during another song and it sounds like shit.” Indeed, everybody would get solo time, but the moment that really got the phones out came when Grohl announced his intentions to swap places with Hawkins. While Hawkins is certainly an incredible drummer, when Grohl got behind the kit, suddenly the sound of the drums got a whole lot louder and he offered a quick reminder (not that anybody had forgotten) that he has major skills in that area of things. “Okay, Taylor, you’ve got to finish the song,” Grohl quipped and Hawkins went to the microphone, delivering an improv scat vocal — although eventually the two swapped positions with Grohl coming back front and center to finish the song.
Flanked by guitarist Chris Shiflett and keyboardist Rami Jaffee stage right and bassist Nate Mendel and guitarist Pat Smear on the opposite side, Grohl took his time throughout the set to acknowledge the significance of the chosen location. “I know we’re in a fuckin’ strip mall, but my uncle just told me that the first job he ever had was at a shoe store in this little shopping center,” Grohl said. As the official ambassador for Record Store Day, it was expected that the Foos would probably end up doing a show at a record store somewhere. As it happens, that “somewhere” was almost St. Louis —- Grohl talked about how the plans were in place and then they heard that Joan Jett was getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At first, they thought that maybe they could go ahead with the St. Louis performance and then fly in for the Rock Hall event to see Jett get inducted.
But then, as Grohl revealed, “Somebody had the bright idea that you should play the town where you were born.” Grandma’s house, as Grohl shared, was nearby, “We’re really close.” In fact, he and Jaffe rode motorcycles to the gig. The whole experience had good vibes, from the moment that we walked towards the record store and saw a mother and her son out front, giving away free tacos, with a sign that said, “We’re giving away free tacos, because that’s what Dave would do — We just want to hug a Foo.” We’re not sure if they got that hug — but it was good enough to get them a spot inside to see the show, which was a big victory, considering they had missed out on getting tickets. The tacos, as the mother told us later, were a bust — not many people wanted them —- but at the end of it all, it didn’t matter one bit, because they got to rock out with their favorite band.
The setlist was heavy on older material with only a couple of cuts from the current Sonic Highways
album, “Congregation,” which found Grohl spitting out the lyrics with an intensity that revealed that the Foo Fighters have not traveled so far from their club days 20 years ago. They’re still playing with that same level of power and they are well-known for having a great live show —- but bringing it back into a more intimate setting proved that the band hasn’t lost an inch of its ability to connect with the audience at that smaller level. It had been rumored that for the 20th anniversary, that the guys had plans to go back and play all of the original clubs (only partially possible, since some of the venues are no longer there) that they played on their initial tours in those early days. Seeing the performance at Record Connection was enough to make one wish that perhaps those rumors might come true — it would be quite thrilling to see the Foo Fighters take the Cleveland Agora stage one more time. But if that doesn’t happen, getting the chance to see the band with 149 other select people was quite an experience —- and the fact that the set was peppered with tracks from the first album, including the “old school” version of “Big Me” and the rarely played “Alone + Easy Target,” made the power hour a fun trip back for longtime Foo Fighters fans.
A cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America,” sourced from the demos that are on the band’s new Record Store Day EP, was another nugget, with Grohl asking the fans prior to the song, “Does anybody know all of the words? Neither do I.” How did the Foos version sound? Like everything else heard that afternoon, it was really loud — no complaints about that, mind you. Fan favorite “Everlong” was the set closer with Grohl telling fans that the show was, “A weird way to start the day — sober show!” and “Thanks for coming! At the conclusion of the song, Grohl shook hands and signed a few autographs for the front of the crowd and with that, it was over and the band was out the door.
In the record store after the set had wrapped, owner Jeff Burke recorded a video message for the band and said to the surrounding fans, “I hope you guys understand that this is a big event, something you’ll never forget,” calling it the “greatest experience of my life,” out of the thousands of concerts that he had attended. It’s safe to say that fans will indeed remember their afternoon with the Foo Fighters in Niles —- it was a good one that won’t be soon forgotten.