BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
When Dave Grohl bellows, “Are you (expletive) ready?!” from behind a stage-hiding curtain, when the chunky guitar riffs of “All My Life” screech out before a band member is even seen, when a phalanx of lights are already spinning frenetically…you know it’s going to be one of those nights.
Grohl and the Foo Fighters stormed (no pun intended) Centennial Olympic Park Sunday night in a nearly 2 ½-hour blitz of face-melting rock ‘n’ roll.
Making their first Atlanta appearance since a triumphant set at Music Midtown in 2012 – which Grohl recalled as being the biggest show on their tour that year – the band never stopped accelerating as they tore through 21 years of material.
Grohl, his bum leg still forcing him to stay tethered to his junkyard Starship Enterprise rock throne, thrashed his head and screamed the lyrics to “Times Like These” as the contraption rolled down a catwalk to bring him closer to the soggy mass of fans who stretched back toward Marietta Street.
The crowd of about 21,500, damp as they were from the continual mist of rain throughout most of the concert, shrugged off the weather to fist pump and head bang to the band’s teeth-gnashing rawk.
Few singers can veer from scuzzy to sweet as effortlessly as Grohl. During “Learning to Fly,” he swung from throat-scraping howls to honeyed pop melodies, then returned to raw and visceral with “Something From Nothing,” from the band’s current album – and reason for this massive tour – “Sonic Highways.”
He also probably gives his doctors apoplexy every time he stands in his moving chariot and asks the crowd, “Do you wanna dance?” before wiggling his hips a bit and slamming into “The Pretender.”
During “Walk,” which built from a steady bass drum thump into an explosion of jagged guitar and exhaustive snare drum work, Grohl, his mop of hair dripping wet, leaned toward the crowd, just daring them not to sing along with him.
While Grohl is the undeniable centerpiece of Foo Fighters, the rest of the band – guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel, drummer Taylor Hawkins and touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee – contributed mightily to the concert’s musical muscularity.
A grin-worthy Van Halen homage found Shiflett busting out “Eruption” (even cooler, Eddie Van Halen’s signature stripes motif slashed across the video screens flanking the stage), which segued into Van Halen’s version of “You Really Got Me,” with the amenable Hawkins on lead vocals.
Hawkins, a drummer who manages to balance Animal-like thrashing with a surprising amount of finesse, also handled a gut-punching cover of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.”
Every band member shared a spotlight moment during Foo karaoke (“We’re not a [expletive] bar mitzvah band!” Grohl joked when the crowd expressed disappointment at a truncated “Another One Bites the Dust”); though hearing Smear riff on the MTV theme was a classic moment.
When the band returned to Foo Land, it was for “Cold Day in the Sun,” with Hawkins and his perfectly capable lead vocal skills, and a full-throttle read on “My Hero,” which was capped by monster drumming and a flurry of frantic lights.
While some fans might have hoped for a Zac Brown sighting during “Congregation” (Brown guests on the recorded version), they actually received a bigger surprise in the lithe form of Jewel (who also performed with Foo Fighters a week ago in Phoenix).
She and Grohl shared vocals on a charming version of the Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty classic, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” and by song’s end, the folk-pop chanteuse was in full rock chick mode.
The band maintained the stage-sharing approach with “What Did I Do?/God As My Witness” – also from their current album – with show opener Gary Clark Jr., but didn’t neglect fans’ obvious hunger for classics “This is a Call” and “Best of You.”
By the end of a Foo Fighters concert, you wonder how Grohl presents such vigor, whether sitting or mobile, every show. He’s exhausting to watch, yes. But also more than a bit exhilarating.
Clark Jr., meanwhile, offered a thorough 35-minute set of slow-crawl blues (“Bright Lights”), swampy four-on-the-floor rock (“Ain’t Messin ‘Round”) and chang-ing guitar riffs and a falsetto vocal (“Please Come Home”).
The usual tone for Clark Jr. is an appealing rasp which he uses to sing-speak while expertly extracting wails and chatter from his guitar. As demonstrated on “Grinder,” Clark Jr. knows how to make the traditional cool.