IF Dave Grohl ever invites you to a barbecue, go. It will be a blast, and the backyard jams will be awesome.
“I pretty much know about 40% of the people here,” Grohl said halfway through the Foo Fighters’ “afoostic” set, the first of three sold-out nights at the Pantages, on Tuesday. “We should be having this in my backyard.” Then he eyed a heckler. “Hey, sir, if this were in my backyard, you wouldn’t be here,” he teased.
That’s Grohl, the life of the party, the man who brought affability back to angsty ‘90s rock. It’s been an astounding 12 years since Kurt Cobain’s death sent the former Nirvana drummer spinning off toward a new career, and since then his band has recorded some of rock’s most hummable tunes. The Foo Fighters played those hits Tuesday, along with the old-but-new songs that appeared on the acoustic half of last year’s double disc, “In Your Honor.”
It’s handy that the band could coin the term “afoostic,” because the music certainly wasn’t acoustic. Keyboardist Rami Jaffe, violinist Petra Haden, percussionist Drew Hester and guitarist (and erstwhile Foo) Pat Smear doubled the band’s size, and electric instruments frequently appeared in their hands. But Grohl did sit down for most of the two-hour set, refraining from his trademark ghrowl. (That’s a howl and a growl combined within a Grohl.)
Noted photographer and guest harmonica player Danny Clinch was directing camera crews for a future DVD, and bright lighting made it easy for Grohl to interact with the willing crowd.
The singer’s gift for articulating painful feelings without making anything overly explicit was also in evidence. Songs like “Big Me” and “Times Like These” expressed uncertainty or joy in language that was easy for the adoring audience to embrace; like Grohl himself, these songs worked to be liked.
Relieved of their usual turbo-charged arrangements (and the full effect of Taylor Hawkins’ slap-happy drumming, though he and Hester had some fun interplay), the band’s repertoire felt a bit too genteel; Grohl’s moody lyrics lost some edge.
Some arrangements sparkled, especially when Haden took a featured turn. She even sang one song; so did Hawkins, providing welcome contrast to Grohl’s conversational vocals. But only two early Grohl compositions, the Nirvana B-side “Marigold” and “A Friend of a Friend” -- which followed a long, compelling anecdote about Grohl’s time rooming with Cobain -- had enough drama to captivate. They’d even hush the hecklers at a barbecue.
Times pop music critic Ann Powers can be reached at email@example.com.
Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. today
Price: $42.50 to $50
Info: (323) 468-1770