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Nirvana: Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters at Glens Falls Civic Center.

PHOTO: Julia Zave

The Good Fight

By Kirsten Ferguson

Foo Fighters

Glens Falls Civic Center, Oct. 9

There are a lot of things to dislike about “arena” rock concerts, at least if you’re used to the more intimate environs of clubs and theaters. In the smaller setting, the beer line may be just as long but feels less like a cattle herd, and the acoustics may not be great but still sound better than an airplane hangar. Some bands can make an arena show seem fun, but special effects are usually required. Remember the Kiss reunion show at the Pepsi Arena some years ago? They had it all: firework explosions, 3D effects, flaming guitars, a levitating drum riser, and the tongue wags of Gene Simmons—who could fly like Peter Pan.

Count the Foo Fighters among the minority of bands who can turn an arena show into an all-around good time. They did it at the Glens Falls Civic Center last Tuesday night, and they didn’t need pyrotechnics, background videos, costumes or special effects. Just a shaggy but ageless Dave Grohl in black T-shirt and beat-up sneakers, with his band bringing the rock. To work up the enthusiastic crowd, all Grohl needed to do was unleash one of his tell-tale frenetic shrieks, a nod to his grunge and punk roots that he used only sparingly and with feeling, during songs like the Courtney-excoriating hit “I’ll Stick Around.”

“He’s such a good screamer,” admired an audience member in the hockey rink/civic center, which was only half-filled, reportedly because this show was just a warm-up in preparation for an upcoming tour to support the new Foo Fighters album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, and hence wasn’t promoted much. “We need to get back in the game, know what I mean? Been spending too much time in Europe,” Grohl announced to a smattering of jeers from the Europhobes in attendance. “Yeah, I know you think Europe sucks,” he added. “Europe’s kind of kick-ass after a couple of big ol’ beers.” That’s Dave Grohl, who onstage was still the same likeable beer-drinking, pot-smoking dude he must have been back in Springfield, Va., where he grew up, even though he lives in Los Angeles now and sits on a post-Nirvana fortune.

Of course there were some nods to arena-rock theatrics, with Grohl jumping off the stage during a sprawling version of “Stacked Actors” to race a half-lap around the civic center floor, chased by a couple of plainclothes bodyguards who ran block. Standing on the soundboard, he riffed out a dueling guitar solo with guitarist Chris Shiflett, who stayed on stage. And, in an extended, but cool, episode during which each of Grohl’s bandmates took turns soloing, Grohl and guitarist Pat Smear quibbled over whether Smear, who doesn’t do guitar solos, would demolish his guitar instead. To crowd chants of “Smash it, smash it,” Smear demurred, so Grohl was forced to beat his own guitar into submission. “That was a guitar that I liked a lot. Pat, you owe me one,” Grohl complained. A rehearsed scene, most likely, but still, with the ever-likeable Dave Grohl, it was entertaining.

Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Leon Redbone, Loudon Wainwright III

The Egg, Oct. 13

Two wildly different, cult-beloved singers played the Egg last Saturday, both easily veering from poignant to hilarious in their songs and patter. But where Leon Redbone’s repertory centers around venerable vaudeville and minstrel songs, Loudon Wainwright draws from a considerable catalogue of original material.

Stage settings emphasized the contrast. Redbone, sporting his traditional sunglasses, stick and hat, sat with his guitar upstage center, flanked by mute-laden cornetist Scott Black and pianist Paul Azaro, both barely discernible in dim blue light. All that was missing was a smoky haze.

Wainwright played much farther downstage, a presence that invited a more vigorous volley of audience comments—and led, surprisingly, to more requests fulfilled than in any earlier performance I’ve seen.

The fans who filled the small Swyer Theater knew their artists and repertory, and six songs into Redbone’s set, a request for “At the Chocolate Bon Bon Ball” instantly provoked the singer into his most garrulous moment, praising the work of bandoneón virtuoso Alfredo Pedernera, who was featured on Redbone’s recording of the song. “I don’t know where he is now,” Redbone muttered, strumming the opening of the chords of the song, then stopping to note, “This is where he’d come in. It just doesn’t sound right without him.” And then going on to the next number.

From “Sweet Mama,” which opened the set (and was the opening song on his first album), through an encore of “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” the selections were soulful (“Someday Sweetheart”) and silly (“Polly Wolly Doodle”), interspersed with oddball bits such as his balletic index finger accompaniment to Azaro’s solo on Jelly Roll Morton’s “Creepy Feeling.”

Wainwright launched his set with the cynical “Road Ode,” soon enough dipping into numbers from his most recent album, Strange Weirdos, itself a collection of songs connected with the movie Knocked Up.

After a rousing “So Damn Happy,” he sang far fewer of his unhappy-in-love songs than usual, replaced, as he pointed out, by newer numbers “about death and decay, my current obsessions.” But even when fulfilling a request for the opposite-of-narcissistic “Look Like Shit,” the 61-year-old Wainwright seemed impressively hale, summoning some of his very early songs like “Be Careful, There’s a Baby in the House” and, after a false start, “Dilated to Meet You,” written to anticipate the birth of his first child.

He can be as cruelly self-reflective (“White Winos,” about drinking with his mother) as cynically funny (“A Guilty Conscience and a Broken Heart,” a new song in the vein of his earlier “Unrequited to the Nth Degree”), and he’s a manically funny performer, punctuating songs with a Jack Nicholson grin among other oddball facial calisthenics.

He led a sing-along with another oldie, the delightfully sacrilegious “I Am the Way,” to finish the program, and, like Loudon, the audience was in great voice, spontaneously offering harmony. We’re all aging, of course, but a visit with Wainwright reminds us that we’re doing so in good company.

—B.A. Nilsson

Dance, Fools, Dance

The Bravery

Revolution Hall, Oct. 10

Some people think that the Bravery have had their 15 minutes of fame, whether they deserve it or not, and just a little bit more. You can file a taste suit against me, but I sort of dig ‘em. The onetime ska band earned buzz and next-big-thing-kudos during 2005 for their debut, which fit right into the new-wave revival/death-disco trend that brought bands such as the Killers, Interpol and Franz Ferdinand into the spotlight.

A feud with the Killers and a Top 20 debut kept the band in the press, but they shared a problem with some of their new-wave forefathers: They had a killer single in “An Honest Mistake,” but their album was a patchwork of filler, with vocoder-adjusted vocals and stylistic clashes. For their follow-up it was clear the band needed to make a Killers-style stylistic “maturation.” What stinks is, my favorite part of the band is their disco beats and New Order keyboard palette, and they felt that losing that would show they had matured.

I could care less how much vocoder are on your vocals, as long as you are making me simultaneously rock and dance. It seems other critics agreed with me on some level, because The Sun and the Moon has been almost universally panned except by Entertainment Weekly: They gave the album a B-plus. How do I know this? Don’t ask!

But on Wednesday the band proved that The Sun and the Moon, which finds the band playing around more with more classic-rock clichés than New Order’s recycle bin, actually lends the band a needed sense of weight and urgency.

Tracks like “Split Me Wide Open” and “Every Word Is a Knife in My Ear” recalled Public Image Ltd’s poppier moments, and—go ahead, sue me—there was a definite snarling edge the band had previously lacked.

Other newer material like “Believe” and “Time Won’t Let Me Go” made me happy like listening to “On Top of Old Smokey” on my “baby’s first record player” as a kid. And that is a good thing.

It was filler material from the band’s debut that made me cringe, tracks like “Public Service Announcement” with lines like “Stop, drop and roll, you’re on fire,” or “Fearless” with the line “And I know that’s why you love me Chica”—and yet I was dancing along to every stupid word. It was a dripping-wet guilty pleasure that I won’t soon forget. So, again, please, fucking sue me.

—David King

Not Afraid of Life

Walter Salas-Humara, Anders Parker

Valentine’s, Oct. 11

A founding member of alternative-country pioneers the Silos, Walter Salas-Humara sings songs that pack a lot of life under their belts. Last Thursday night on the downstairs stage at Valentine’s, Salas-Humara ground out some great rock and roll for grown-up punks, tunes about hearts “adrift between the shores of heaven and hell” and getting bored and taking drugs and driving around. Show opener Anders Parker joined Salas-Humara for some beautiful guitar leads on set highlight “When the Telephone Rings,” a gorgeous ode to New York City that spoke of seeing “the truth of flowers blooming/in a concrete box.” Like Richard Buckner and the Jayhawks at their best, Salas-Humara has the poetic gift of capturing elusive emotions in a finely tuned phrase. There’s a lot of hard-won wisdom in songs like “Innocent” and “The Only Love,” and any guy who references baseball in two separate songs knows a thing or two about genuine Americana.

As noted, Anders Parker, best known for his work in the vastly underrated Varnaline and last year’s collaboration with Jay Farrar, Gob Iron, opened. Like troubadour Andrew Bird, Parker is a master at using various delay and loop pedals to enrich and thicken the texture of his solo sets. Opening with a lovely “Still Dream,” Parker found his way to “Circle Same,” its lines “The rain may come any day/and take it all away” coinciding with a Seattle-worthy downpour audible from inside the club.

Parker spends a lot of time on the road, and many of his tunes reflect loneliness and yearning. His voice sharing both the gravitas of a Farrar and the flexibility of a Freedy Johnston, Parker sang how “all the hotel rooms were fresh and clean/but they’re not home and they’re not free,” while playing searing Telecaster lines over a bed of strummed open tunings. Bracing rockers like the catchy “Song” and “The Hammer Goes Down” were perfect for midnight rides down the freeway, patches of light between the long stretches where Parker’s guitars took over, their soaring sonic expanse evoking the place where he most likely feels at home, somewhere beneath America’s wide northern skies, between exits, gazing at the stars.

—Mike Hotter

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