The crowd did — and wanted it. Grohl and crew hadn’t seen a live audience in a long time, the concertgoers hadn’t seen live music in a long time, and both entities seemed tremendously grateful to be in each other’s presence during the three-hour performance. But despite the collective strangeness that the Foo Fighters and everyone else on the planet has experienced during the last 15 months, the scene Grohl saw when the house lights came up didn’t look all that different than those he’s seen so many times before.
Indeed, with swirling talk about what the “new normal” will be as the world settles into a post-pandemic reality and the machinery of the music industry gets back into gear, the most surreal part about last night’s show was just how much this new normal felt like the old normal. All of that stuff you remember from concerts and dreamed about while watching Netflix in your sweatpants for the last year-plus? That stuff happened.
People still clutched cans of beer still and mingled before the show. They still stepped on each other’s toes while navigating through the room. There were still lines for the ladies room. Drunk men were still escorted out of the crowd by security. The tallest guy in the room still ended up standing directly in front of you. Little clouds of weed smoke still intermittently rose above the crowd. Everyone still cheered when the lights came down and the band opened with “Times Like These,” although that cheering seemed a bit louder given what these times have actually been like, and given this first show back was being performed by an all-time great band that typically plays venues many, many times larger than The Canyon.
In fact the Foo Fighters performed the gig as a warmup to their full-capacity Madison Square Garden show this Sunday, June 20. Tickets for The Canyon Club gig went on sale two days before the show and cost $26, a nod to the band celebrating its 26th year anniversary in 2021. For Canyon Club owner Lance Sterling, the event was a splashy, meaningful way to get back to work.
“It’s an incredible honor that they would think to do their warm up gig with us,” he said. “It makes me tear up a little bit, knowing that bands do give a s— about what we went through.”
What Sterling went through parallels the stories of many independent venue owners throughout the country. Forced to close the nine clubs he owns throughout Southern California (which collectively hosted roughly 1,700 shows a year before the pandemic) with the onset of COVID-19, Sterling racked up $11.8 million in debt and eventually had to sell his Pasadena location. (He says he and his family got by on the income his wife Caryn makes as JoJo Siwa‘s manager and from the avocado farm they own near Agoura Hills.)
While The Canyon Club didn’t get any government assistance during the pandemic, Sterling was able to keep paying about a quarter the of his 400 employees for the duration of the closure. While the Agoura club has recently hosted a handful of small local shows, having the Foo Fighters — who all live in the Agoura Hills area — come to play was a milestone way to kick off the post-pandemic era.
“I’m ready to move,” Sterling said while standing outside the doors of the club, welcoming attendees and old friends. “And for the Foo Fighters do something like this for you, it’s really special.”
For a venue catering largely to a local crowd, many of whom could be seen at The Canyon Club once a week before the pandemic, having one of the most crucial bands in modern rock history come through on a Tuesday was a major gift, and one that Sterling emphasizes many big time acts could give to indie venues as operators try to pick up the pieces and resume business in California and beyond. (The Foo Fighters did not take a fee for the show, and Sterling estimates the performance cost the band approximately $30,000 to $40,000.)
The special occasion marked the day, June 15, that nearly all concerts in California were able to resume without capacity limits, with the California Department of Public Health stating that vaccinated people aren’t required to wear masks. Attendees of the 21+ show were required to provide proof of vaccination.
In this way, the new normal isn’t like the old normal. In The Canyon’s parking lot, a crowd of protestors stood with signs proclaiming that vaccines are unsafe and that vaccination requirements are discriminatory. This protest heightened the drama of an already charged evening, as people navigated simply being in a crowd and out in public after 8 p.m. for the first time in a long time. Inside, fewer than 10 attendees were wearing masks. (Although it is no longer a requirement, Canyon Club staff were masked during the show.)
“Trust me, we just want to open,” Sterling said of abiding by state safety requirements. “At this point, if they told us that everyone had to wear red sunglasses, we’d make everyone wear red sunglasses.”
Attendees started lining up outside the club Tuesday morning, waiting upward of 10 hours in the heat to score a prime spot. Inside, a superfan vibe was palpable, with people showing off their Foo Fighters tattoos and others in faded Foo Fighters T-shirts fist pumping and singing along to every word of every song. The expansive set list included hits such as “The Pretender,” “Learn to Fly,” “My Hero,” “Best of You” and the show-closing “Everlong,” to drummer Taylor Hawkins doing a spirited cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” to deeper Foo cuts such as 1999’s “Aurora” to material from the band’s 2021 album Medicine At Midnight, which Grohl noted that they’d never played live before.
The sound was tight, loud and fantastically heavy, with much headbanging both on stage and in the crowd. With heat warnings issued throughout Southern California Tuesday, the temperature inside was steamy despite the air conditioning, and standing among 600 sweaty strangers without the fear of death felt both novel and triumphant.
“We missed this s— so f—ing much!” Grohl exclaimed between songs. We’re going to play as many songs as we can, until we collapse, the cops show up or I need a drink.”
In one way or another, everyone has been through a lot in the last 15 months. Despite that, as one of world’s more likable bands led concertgoers into the future, Tuesday night felt thrillingly, comfortingly familiar. Perhaps, then, the most marked aspect of the new normal is just the awareness of what people have experienced personally and collectively, what the music industry has been through, what artists have been through, what indie venues have been through, and how many spaces and people didn’t make it to this turning point.
On Tuesday night, getting back to live music was special to the point of goosebumps and tears and screaming along until your throat was raw. Maybe the new normal is just not taking all that for granted.