Foo Fighters charge into sold-out Xcel with a 3-hour greatest hits marathon

Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center in 2015

Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center in 2015 Courtney Perry/Special to Star Tribune

“We’ve been a band for 25 years,” Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl declared near the beginning of his band’s sold-out St. Paul date of the Concrete and Gold Tour, the global trek’s final U.S. concert and third-to-last overall. “We’ve got a lot of fucking songs to play.”

That was certainly true, as Grohl and the five other Foo Fighters took the 16,000 fans packing the Xcel Energy Center Thursday night on a time machine through the band’s sure-to-be Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career. While they didn’t quite keep Grohl’s promise of playing a song from every album during the nearly three-hour set, the intent to not ignore any era of the group’s history was admirable.

Most impressively, Foo Fighters weren’t shy about playing songs from last year’s Concrete and Gold, their ninth studio album. Whereas 2014’s Sonic Highways felt like an afterthought at the band’s Xcel show supporting it, they front-loaded the setlist with four new cuts this time, kicking off the night with its best song, the single “Run,” welcoming three backing singers onstage for “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” and even giving drummer Taylor Hawkins the mic and a solo on the yacht-rocky “Sunday Rain.”

“A drum solo on the fourth song - what a lucky bastard I am,” a self-aware Hawkins observed while perched atop his drum riser, which had elevated about 20 feet during his overly indulgent star turn.

As everyone left the stage for Hawkins’ time to shine, it became apparent how much Foo Fighters have grown over their quarter-decade of existence - not only commercially, but in terms of the number of people onstage. Started as a Grohl solo project following the untimely demise of Nirvana, the group now sports six members - the singer/guitarist and bassist Nate Mendel are the only constants, while Hawkins, guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear (the latter rejoined in 2010 after leaving in 1997), and keyboardist Rami Jaffee (the newest member, with just a year under his belt) have been added in the interim. Factor in the backing vocalists, plus the family of three Grohl invited to sit three feet to Smear’s left, and there were 12 people onstage at one point last night. 

After a run-through of the new material and one song from Sonic Highways, the opening notes of Wasting Light’s “Walk” marked the first huge response from the crowd. The song’s lyrics about “learning to walk again” were especially appropriate, since Grohl’s 2015 appearance here found him bound to a giant throne for the entire show after shattering his fibula. The 49-year-old certainly made use of his two legs this time, bounding from stage left to stage right seemingly every song.

The backwards-chronological set continued with a 10-minute long version of “The Pretender” (about 10 minutes too long) and the highlights from 2002’s One by One, “Times Like These” and “All My Life.” The latter was perhaps the biggest Rock-with-a-capital-R moment of the night, coaxing even those who were seemingly glued to their seats to throw their fists into the air. The best Foo Fighters album, 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose, was unfortunately also only represented by two songs, “Learn to Fly” and “Breakout,” although the melodic “Fly” was a true treat to watch.

After that, the band hit pause on the whole greatest-hits-in-reverse thing. What started as band introductions turned into a three-song cover section, a Foo Fighters shtick that, two tours in, has easily worn out its welcome. The inventive mashup of Van Halen’s “Jump” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” was entertaining enough, but renditions of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” (it was sung by Hawkins, just like it was at that 2015 St. Paul gig) could’ve been axed to make room for a song from the group’s 1995 self-titled debut, the only album not to get any love Thursday.

Following that detour into the ’70s and ’80s, Grohl thankfully fast-forwarded to 1997 with “My Hero,” “Monkey Wrench,” and “Everlong.” Those Colour and the Shape cuts ended the main set, with “My Hero” serving as an unlikely spotlight for Jaffee’s keys before turning into the massive anthem that it is.

The encore included the best cover of the night, Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” The backing singers shone on this extended jam of the 1976 classic, a fitting tribute to a departed rocker about a year since his passing. Well-worn album tracks “White Limo,” and “Cold Day in the Sun” followed that, while Grohl wrapped up the night was a mammoth take on one of the Foos’ signature hits, 2005’s “Best of You.”

Was Thursday night’s concert always the Best of Foo? Sometimes it felt more like Foos’ Greatest Hits, but there were plenty of instances where the alt-rock torchbearers were at the top of their game.

The opener: The endlessly energetic Sydney quintet Gang of Youths provided support, showcasing songs from their Springsteen-indebted 2017 album, Go Farther in Lightness. “The Heart Is a Muscle” and “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?” were the highlights from the band’s own canon, while a cover of the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” (plus shoutouts to Richfield and Duluth) suggested that Minnesota wasn’t just another stop on to the tour to the Aussies.

The setlist:
The Sky Is a Neighborhood
La Dee Da
Sunday Rain
Something from Nothing
These Days
The Pretender
Times Like These
All My Life
Learn to Fly
Blitzkrieg Bop
Under Pressure
My Hero
Monkey Wrench
White Limo
Cold Day in the Sun
Best of You