Foo Fighters’ latest SNL performance a gift that keeps giving

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Audiences never know what they’re going to get from a musical performance on “Saturday Night Live.” Sometimes they will be failures that reveal lip-synching; other times, the musical performances will be groundbreaking or awe-inspiring, for example like whenever Springsteen, U2, or Red Hot Chili Peppers take the stage.

This past Saturday, with Kevin Hart hosting, the Foo Fighters were the musical guest. Like a lot of people, I’ve kind of had a broken heart for Dave Grohl ever since the death of Kurt Cobain. I can’t imagine the depths of his grief. But he has soldiered own and forged his own identity with the Foo Fighters. It is easy to assume so much about a band that has been around a while. So, when the Foo Fighters took the stage and shook things up a bit, I hope I wasn’t the only person who was pleasantly surprised.

Foo Fighters: “The Sky is a Neighborhood”

Typically, musical guests perform twice. Foo Fighters performed “The Sky is a Neighborhood” for their first song. The track is from their ninth album, “Concrete and Gold,” released late this summer, in August 2017.

The song has a solid rock feel. Even though the backing vocals, “ah-ahs,” could remind some listeners of 1960s rock harmonies, I was impressed by the solid rock feel of the song overall. A soundscape filled with big guitars and strains of psychedelia backed Grohl’s rough, raspy lead vocals. The lyrical content is a mix of effective, if unusual metaphors, that bordered on the surreal. Even so, depending on listeners’ interpretations, they were lyrics appropriate for uncertain contemporary times.

For listeners who had been away from the Foo Fighter catalog for a while, “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” is good re-introduction.

Foo Fighters “Christmas Medley”

Maybe it is the pending holiday, but there are clues that this performance is going to be different, and not just because it’s the last one of the night. Grohl has changed clothes. The nearly trademark black and red-checked shirt has been replaced by a Christmas sweater. Still, at the outset, nothing else seems to indicate a holiday-themed performance. As he stands on the stage, guitar in hand, Grohl is the only person readily visible. He launches into “Everlong.” The sparse arrangement is engaging enough. Fans of the 1997 hit listen close, and just when the song feels familiar again, but then it changes again.

Suddenly, two minutes in, the lights come up, and it isn’t just Grohl dressed in holiday clothing. It is the rest of the musicians, too. This is as close to whimsy as a rock band is going to get, probably. The stage is awash in green and red light. Bows and stringed lights festoon amps and a microphone stand.

And, the music has changed. The Foo Fighters launch into “Christmas” by Darlene Love. The Foo Fighters’ version of the 1963 hit allows the backup singers to take lead. The singers sound as though they represent three distinct female voice parts. The female singers take turns bringing a rock-meets-soul enthusiasm to the song.

Again, just as audiences grow comfortable, the music changes again. The well-known strains of Vince Guaraldi’s theme from the Charlie Brown animated movies, “Linus and Lucy.” The bass drum is lit red then green. The singers added to the mood by dancing like Peanuts’ characters. The piano motif was mostly replaced by heavy guitars. Even though the whole set lasted only four and a half minutes, it shows Grohl’s generosity as he allows other members of the ensemble to shine. And, the performance provided Christmas cheer when audiences least expected it. As a result, the performance was like a Christmas gift – – unexpected, cool, and something we didn’t even know we’d like. At the end,  Grohl wishes everyone a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” and sounds sincere. Thanks, Foo Fighters.

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