Live: Foo Fighters New Axeman Shows Off His Chops

Franz Stahl shows he's no slouch when it comes to erecting a wall of rock-hard sound.

MILAN, Italy -- Foo Fighters' axeman Franz Stahl may not be Pat

Smear on stage or anywhere behind the guitar. Certainly he doesn't have the

name to go along with the sound.

But the end result is much the same: Great music and dynamic guitar work that

lends itself perfectly to one of the great '90s rock 'n' roll outfits.

Stahl, who replaced original guitarist Smear a couple of months ago and

played with Foo-leader Dave Grohl in the '80s hard-core band Scream, came

Tuesday to the club Propaganda with Grohl and the rest of the Foos to play

his first show for an Italian audience.

It was clear just one song into the set that Stahl never lost step with his former

partner in rock. The duo showed utmost confidence, giving each other quick

and knowing glances as they jammed like teenagers in a garage, their volume

only matched by the crowd's reaction. "I've known [Grohl] ever since [Scream

broke up]," Stahl said before the show. "We kept in touch as much as we could.

He called me on the phone, we talked about it a little bit before, and that's how it

happened: 'Pat's leaving, wanna join?' "

While no one in the band would reveal much about the reasons for Smear's

departure, Stahl said he felt strange taking over at first. "I talked with Pat briefly,

and I felt really weird when I was talking to him at the MTV awards," he said,

referring to the video music awards show on which Smear announced his plans

to leave.

"He didn't want to tour anymore. He wanted to do his own thing," said bassist

Nate Mendel.

Still, few attending the night's performance seemed to notice Smear's absence.

"By the way, where was the other Nirvana guy?" asked 20-year-old

Paolo Bianchini at the end of the 80-minute show.

Most of the more than 1,000 people were too busy singing, dancing and

jumping around to the crashing, blaring melody pouring forth from the stage.

Stage-divers leapt into the sea of bodies, tossed about by the waves of arms for

a while and then disappearing in the crowd. Coincidentally, five years ago,

Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder almost stopped that band's show at this same

club to prevent fans from hurting themselves. "I heard about that concert, but I

was too young to be there," Bianchini said.

And just like PJ did five years ago, Grohl and his Foo Fighters turned the small

club into a sweat factory, with bodies packed shoulder to shoulder, creating a

heat that seemed to radiate through the club, even when the Foo Fighters were

not tearing into their respective instruments.

When the lights went down, a familiar, classic piece welcomed the band onto

the stage. As could be expected, Grohl was last in the procession. His

bandmates were already playing the first chords of "Monkey Wrench," the first

single from their current album The Colour and the Shape, when he

finally approached the mic and began his attack. Dressed in black, Grohl began

scratching his hands across his guitar and growling at the mic.

A white light flashed from the back of the stage onto the crowd, illuminating what

amounted to a claustrophobic's worst nightmare. It was a scene not unlike the

one from the video Grohl directed for that song, of bodies bouncing and

swaying to the massive, driving guitar sounds that came courtesy of Grohl and

his recently reunited friend.

The place was electric; the heat was circulating. Stahl and Grohl were like a

howling wind, keeping the fire stoked.

Young fans, many who still remember Grohl from his days with Seattle grunge

Godfathers, Nirvana, had a chance to reminisce that night. "After Kurt's suicide, I

kept an eye on what the other members of the band where doing, so I came to

know about the Foo Fighters," said 19-year-old Francesco Grassi, in his best

Pearl Jam T-shirt. "But they are a different thing."

The Foo Fighters played with such enthusiasm that they even managed to

overpower the poor acoustics that might have ruined the set for most other

bands. They jammed through "Hey Johnny Park!" as if oblivious to the sound

problems, or, perhaps, drawing inspiration from the challenge, a reminder of

their days spent dreaming-up music in basements.

Then came "This Is

A Call" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Everlong" (RealAudio excerpt), as Grohl jumped and dodged imaginary objects, occasionally slowing down for a moment to chat with the crowd. The goateed singer tried

his hand at some Italian greetings, then teased the audience by faking the riff for

Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," finally launching into "Up In Arms" and dedicating it to "my hero, Ozzy Osbourne."

His band played along. Taylor Hawkins smashed the drums as if venting

frustrations built up over many years. Mendel was more subdued, focusing on

conjuring the new and unusual from his bass.

And then there was Stahl, doing the job as good as Smear ever did. And, from

the band's perspective at least, even better.

"It's good to have someone who actually wants to be here," Hawkins said.

[Fri., Dec. 5, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]