The Austin Chronicle

sxswm: Foo Fighters, Sound and Vision

By Richard Whittaker, March 16, 2011, 12:02pm, Picture in Picture

Tuesday was a pretty good night for the Foo Fighters. First their new documentary Foo Fighters: Back and Forth got its world premiere at a packed Paramount, and then they joined the list of arena bands to have played totally unsecret secret SXSW shows at Stubb's.

Foo's driving force Dave Grohl compared the band's-eye-view documentary to watching each other shower. "Which we do," he grinned to the Paramount audience before the screening.

Neither VH1: Behind the Music sensationalism nor corporate puff piece, the film is a pretty brutal examination of the best and worst of the band's history, and does not flinch away from the fact that some departures were less mutual than others. At the same time, it's about how the Foo Fighters went from being a name scribbled on a tape Grohl made all by himself to being one of the biggest touring acts on the planet. The real story is about how they became a real band in the process.

The genesis of the project was one of those cases of perfect timing. Producer Nigel Sinclair was fascinated by director James Moll's 2006 documentary Inheritance, about the daughter of Amon Goeth (the Nazi concentration commandant portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List. However Moll, who had cut his film making teeth on Steven Spielberg's Shoah project. Not surprisingly, Moll was looking for a change of pace from that grueling work. "It just makes you want to go nuts and make a fun movie," he told the screening audience.

Looking for a change of pace, he told Sinclair and Spitfire Pictures he was looking to direct a rock documentary. His negotiations to direct the Dixie Chicks' Shut Up and Sing had fallen through. So when Grohl started talking to Spitfire about charting the recording of 2010's Wasting Light, Moll had found his perfect project.

Not that Back and Forth is drama-free. The Foo Fighters were a band birthed out of disaster, with Grohl, guitarist Pat Smear, bassist Nate Mendel and original drummer William Goldsmith all coming out of bands that, as Mendel put it, had all ended prematurely. The unstated fear that the whole thing could implode is a key part of the history of the Foos, and Moll let the entire story be told by current and former members. "The only witnesses we would have would be people within the crucible of this band," Sinclair said.

The result is like Some Kind of Monster without Metallica's megalomania and internal drama. Instead, Back and Forth catches a band that seems finally to be at peace with itself: As Grohl points out in the film, the Foo Fighters went through the same bullshit and infighting that every new band goes through. They just did it when they were already huge.

The Foo Fighters skipped out on the post-screening Q&A. The audience members that followed them to Stubb's saw a sprint through upcoming album Wasted Light, followed by a greatest hits explosion (you can read the full review in tomorrow's Chronicle SXSW daily.) What they got was one of the last great stadium rock and roll bands, as well as a punk rock super group. While the crowd of what Grohl teasingly called "industry motherfuckers" bopped to the big hits in between Tweets and free beer, the old school fans could appreciate that there were members of The Germs, Sunny Day Real Estate and No Use For a Name sharing a stage. What Moll's film explained how that strange transition came to pass.

Foo Fighters: Back and Forth screens again Friday, March 18, 3pm at the Alamo Ritz 1.

Stubb's Set list

From Wasted Light:
“Bridge Burning”
“Dear Rosemary”
”White Limo”
“These Days”
“Back & Forth”
“A Matter of Time”
“Miss the Misery”
“I Should Have Known”

– – – – – –

“One By One”
“Times Like These”
“Learn to Fly”
“The Pretender”
“Stacked Actors”
“Best of You”
“This is a Call”

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