In the series, directed by Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl, the band taps into the musical heritage and cultural fabric of eight cities – Chicago, Austin, Nashville, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and New York – basing themselves at a legendary studio integral to the unique history and character of each location. One song was recorded in each city, with every song featuring local legends sitting in, and every lyric was written in an unprecedented experimental style: Grohl held off on putting down words until the last day of each session in order to be inspired by the experiences, interviews and personalities that became part of the process.
Almost immediately some friends and I began plotting how we would stalk and befriend Dave Grohl. No doubt about it, Dave Grohl would leave the New Orleans segment of the show being new BFFs with us. Of this I had no doubt. Wheels were put in motion.
Fast forward to last night at around 6:30. I’m at home in my bathtub putting an exclamation point on a “Treat Yo Self” day with a long, Dead Sea salt-infused soak. Earlier, I’d had a massage, gotten a professional shave, had acupuncture, purchased some silly socks and eaten a cheeseburger. It was a great day. My only plan for the remainder of it was to get out to maybe see Godzilla. But then I got a text message from my friend Mandy.
“My bro says Foo Fighters are playing at Preservation. You know how to get tix?”
Wait, WHAT?!?! The Foo Fighters playing at Preservation Hall?!?! I almost leapt out of the bathtub. But before doing so I conducted a quick investigation via Twitter. The Foo Fighters official Twitter account had essentially confirmed everything earlier in the day when it sent out a coy tweet showing Dave Grohl kicking it with Charlie Gabriel and Freddie Lonzo of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Some further digging around showed that not only were the Foo Fighters likely playing at Preservation Hall that night — which is a big deal because it’s the most intimate of intimate settings; you can only squeeze about 75 people in there, max — but they had apparently been in New Orleans for days, running around all over town frequenting the same places me and my friends frequent (One Eyed Jacks, Yo Mama’s, etc.) without any of us hearing about it. I’ve rarely felt more disappointed.
However, there was one thing that could soothe my disappointment: getting to see the Foo Fighters play Preservation Hall that night. So I popped out of the tub, quickly jumped on my bike and headed to the Quarter. When I arrived I estimated myself to be about the 100th person there to join the line, so I felt I at least had a chance to get in. From the line, we could hear the Foo Fighters rehearsing inside the building. Hell yeah, it was on. A server from Pat O’Brien’s next door began working the line taking drink orders. I ordered a hurricane, my first in years.
I was probably in line for about a half hour when I spotted my friend Mark, who works in the local film and TV industry. He let me in on a little secret: rather than letting people inside for the show, Preservation Hall’s two giant sets of French doors facing St. Peter Street would be opened up and the band would play to the crowd outside on the street. He knew this because a friend of his had been hired to work on the HBO production the band was doing. And then, almost as if on cue, a cameraman emerged on a balcony across the street from Preservation Hall, setting up a camera to film the whole show from that angle. So I got out of the line so Mark and I could position ourselves in the street aligned with one of the two sets of French doors. From there we waited.
Over time word got out and the crowd swelled and more friends trekked down to join us. All the while, a Foo Fighters roadie did his best to keep traffic flowing on St. Peter street, which was no easy task (that guy seriously earned his paycheck last night). Finally, at around 9, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band came out and played a few songs before handing the stage off to the Fighters of Foo, who proceeded to rock the hell out of the block for the next 90 minutes or so. About midway through their first song, the roadie who had been successfully keeping traffic moving on St. Peter street gave up and the assembled crowd pushed forward and formed a single mass of humanity around the outside of the Hall, as seen from this photo posted to the Pat O’Brien’s Twitter page.
My friend Julia and her husband Jonathan, of the New Orleans based Breton Sound, were positioned in front of one of the two French doors and had arguably the best view of the show from the outside. (It was Julia who snapped the photo at the top of this post.) I watched through the same French door, only I was a few feet back. Here’s a shitty pic I posted last night, one in which Grohl looks a bit like the image of Jesus in the Shroud of Turin.
And here’s a video someone who watched in the other French door posted to Instagram…
Later in the show, Win Butler of Arcade Fire — who’s been renting a house in my neighborhood and has been spotted hanging out in local coffee shops for a couple of weeks now — and Trombone Shorty joined in to perform with the band.
Finally, the person with the best perspective for the show might have been Keith Spera of the Times Picayune. He was one of the few non-band members — along with Anderson Cooper — inside Preservation Hall for the show and filed a great report on the whole thing.
In the crush on St. Peter Street, spectators crowd-surfed, or stood on parked cars to get a better view. A member of the local band The Breton Sound, watching from the sidewalk near a door, supplied Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear with a cigarette.
After the relatively sedate “Big Me,” Grohl was ready to rock out again. “Do you mind if we play some loud music? I like loud music.”
With that, “Learn to Fly” took flight, followed by a raging “These Days,” with three fully amped electric guitars across the band’s front line.
Resa Lambert is (Preservation Hall creative director) Ben Jaffe’s aunt and the mother of Preservation Hall production manager Howard Lambert. She worked for Preservation Hall for more than 40 years, road managing the band and collecting money at the door.
On Saturday, for the first time ever, she wore earplugs inside Preservation Hall. And she was impressed.
At one point, (Preservation Hall drummer) Lastie joined in with the Foo Fighters. In his white shirt and black vest and tie, he bashed away next to a shirtless Hawkins. He’d never played a full drum kit with a rock band before. He loved it.
Grohl was especially gracious all evening. “This time, I feel like we really have gotten it right,” he said of the band’s rolling recording project. “We stayed here long enough so we learned a little bit about the city. We made a lot of friends.”
They included the bartenders at Yo Mama’s, a watering hole across St. Peter. Grohl and company apparently visited often. “We recommend the spiked lemonade. It’s like a Slurpee from hell – the devil’s Slurpee.”
During their cross-country recording odyssey, “we’ve been to a lot of great places, we’ve jammed with a lot of great people,” Grohl said. “But this week in this city has changed our band forever.”
Long live the Foo Fighters, and long live New Orleans. It was a night I won’t soon forget. And neither will Anderson Cooper.