AUSTIN, Texas — Dave Grohl doesn't do South by Southwest ... too many bloggers and not enough headbangers for his liking. And really, at this point in his career, there's no reason for him to change his mind. After all, he's basically been one of the biggest rock stars on the planet for close to two decades now, first as the kit-smasher for Nirvana and then as the mastermind of the Foo Fighters, so there's not much left for him to prove. Music industry schmooze fests aren't exactly his kind of party. He prefers the company of Lemmy.
Which is why it was sort of strange to see Grohl and the Foos stride onstage at venerable Austin BBQ shack/venue Stubb's on Tuesday night to play a SXSW show. But then you realized that this was no ordinary South By showcase — it was the de facto post-party for the band's new documentary, "Back and Forth," which premiered earlier in the night as part of the SXSW Film Festival (which is probably why, after strapping on his guitar, Grohl bellowed into the mic, "We're f---ing movie stars, yeaaaah!"). And in honor of the occasion, the Foos decided to play their forthcoming Wasting Light album in its entirety.
So for the next hour, Grohl and Co. barreled through Light, taking nary a break to address the crowd. Starting with the slipstream guitars of "Bridge Burning" and chugging all the way through to album-closing "Walk," the Foos delighted in not only exploring the crags of their latest effort — the surging squall of "White Limo," the spiky fretwork of "Dear Rosemary," the elastic drums and chords of first single "Rope" — but in wringing as much emotion as possible out of its softer moments, most notably on the standout "I Should Have Known." It started out hushed, with Grohl delivering the opening lines like an expert dramaturge, then gradually built on wooshing surges of synth before finally growing into a growler, with guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear crunching chords and drummer Taylor Hawkins bashing away behind the kit.
"And that's the new record," Grohl announced at the conclusion of the set, and whether or not the SXSW rabble truly got it is largely beside the point. There's a reason Grohl declared last month to NME that the Foos' new album is "sequenced like a setlist" ... because it truly is.
Of course, he wasn't about to wait around and take the audience's temperature. Because as soon as those words left his lips, Grohl spat "... And this isn't!" and lurched into one of the band's biggest hits, "All My Life." With the band thundering behind him and the crowd really, truly into it for the first time all night, Grohl took it upon himself to finally address the SXSW crowd (or as he called them, "You industry mother----ers, you f---ing nerds"), and then spent the next hour trying his hardest to win them over. Or convert them.
He bashed through hits like "Everlong," "Learn to Fly" and "The Pretender," attempted to coax a sing-along from the crowd during "My Hero" (and, unsatisfied with their efforts, declared, "You clearly need to do more shots"), headbanged majestically on "Times Like These," and, finally, with set-closing "Best of You," may have succeeded in his efforts. Because as the Foos left the stage, even the industry mother----rs and the f---ing nerds were cheering. And Grohl smiled, knowing that, even though it's not his kind of party, he and the Foos had not only kicked off the SXSW Music Fest, they'd conquered it too.
The Foos are sticking around in Austin on Wednesday (March 16) to perform "Rope" at the mtvU Woodie Awards.
The 2011 mtvU Woodie Awards will air live on MTV, MTV2 and mtvU on Wednesday, March 16, at midnight (ET/PT) from the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. For more information — and to vote for the winner of the "Breaking Woodie" award — check out Woodies.MTV.com.