It’s not often you get to watch a world-class rock band work on songs for a tour, but just as the intrigue of Peter Jackson’s fly-on-the-wall Beatles documentary, Let It Be slips the mask on what it’s like to be in the room with the biggest band in the world, Foo Fighters: Preparing Music For Concerts gives us insight into modern day rock heroes at a transitional point in their career.
Just over a year ago, the band was hit with tragedy when longterm drummer and second-biggest personality in the band, Taylor Hawkins died while the band was on tour in Colombia.
In that time, Foo Fighters staged two triumphant tribute concerts in honour of their late bandmate, announced their intentions to continue, recorded a new album and kept the world guessing as to who would play drums in the future.
That question was finally answered, with session drummer Josh Freese being unveiled at the start of the video, before we’re given a taste of what to expect from Foo Fighters’ packed live schedule for 2023.
The hour-or-so-long event streamed 21 May via Veeps, and was captured at Foo Fighters’ Studio 606. There’s no big light show, no hyping of an audience, just a group of musicians clearly enjoying themselves. Here are just some of the reasons why drummers specifically will want to rewatch while they can.
Josh Freese’s reveal easter eggs
Foos fans will know that the band has long been adept at keeping things under wraps (unless a Radio DJ happens to find out), and while some educated guesses pointed to Josh Freese for many months, it wasn’t fully confirmed by the band until the Preparing Music For Concerts video aired. In typical Foo Fighters fashion, Josh Freese’s position was unveiled with a skit.
The band staged a break-time conversation, which was subsequently interrupted by a cast of decoy drummers, each giving a Freese-related clue. Chad Smith mentioned that his car was being blocked by a white Mercedes (Freese’s daily driver), Tommy Lee brought the band P.F. Changs (another Freese favourite) while wearing a Vandals (Freese’s band) t-shirt, and Danny Carey thoughtfully brought two poodles (actually belonging to Freese) which he’d claimed to have just groomed.
Finally, a voice chimes in, and we cut to Josh Freese sat behind a monstrous DW kit asking if “We could like, I don’t know, play a song or two…or something?” At that we’re treated to a ferocious extended live version of All My Life.
They debuted a brand new song
As well as the two new songs we’ve already heard studio versions of (Rescued and Under You), buried mid-set is another track from forthcoming album, But Here We Are, titled Nothing At All. It’s introduced after Grohl ponders a ‘mellow song’ to play, with an initial suggestion from Mendel of Hearing Voices (also as-yet unreleased).
The band settles on Nothing At All, and Freese takes the opportunity (to some gentle ribbing) to swap his ride cymbal. What follows is a Police-influenced tune, reminiscent of Foo Fighters’ There is Nothing Left to Lose era with a drum part that sounds a bit like Copeland and Bonham having a drum hang.
Barking hi-hats and a fat backbeat combine for the backdrop to skanking guitar chords on 2 and 4 in the verses before the chorus kicks in with pure vintage Foos alt-rock. It’s 3-out-of-3 for the new material so far, which makes us think we could be in for an incredibly strong comeback.
Freese is obviously entering into a very close-knit inner circle of bandmates who have played together for decades, and one that has suffered a loss that could have ended it professionally, while the personal side may never be overcome.
This is the first point we get to see Freese’s varied and seasoned career as a chameleonic sideman come into play, as he treads the line as ‘new guy’ expertly, allowing his drumming to do the talking. And talk they did.
From the razor-sharp five-stroke stabs in All My Life, to the energetic double-kick-playing in No Son of Mine, the up-tempo power and energy of Monkey Wrench, a hypnotic and respectful version of Aurora (which Hawkins claimed as his favourite Foo Fighters song), there’s a lot to get excited about. That’s before the histrionic mid-song solos and trashcan endings, Freese plays it perfectly with faithful versions merging with a fresh personality, and there's a subtle nod to his friend Taylor Hawkins courtesy of the Hawk logo on his front bass drum heads .
The muso nerd-outs
All the members of Foo Fighters cut their teeth on the independent punk/alternative scene, but there are plenty of moments where we see how being one of the world’s biggest rock bands isn’t just a happy accident. If they appear to know what they’re doing it’s because they absolutely do, but the musician’s sense of humour is never far away.
Dave Grohl is quick to mention Freese’s dual-bass drum set-up, even suggesting that they install a double-kick cam at some point.
Elsewhere, there’s a comedy ‘downstroke practice’ following a slightly uptempo rendition of Monkey Wrench, and Freese explains how his earliest gigs were as a 12-year-old, playing Top 40 covers at Disneyland (following an impromptu jam of Huey Lewis’ Workin’ For A Livin’).
It’s difficult to imagine how heavy the last 14 months have been for the band, so the muso geek humour lightens what could have been a sombre mood.
The between-song chat is like a drum clinic at times
With the whole session captured in broadcast-quality, any drummer watching could only hope for a little bit of pro-shot drum chat between two of the most influential/most prolific rock drummers we’ve seen in decades, and we certainly got some glimpses.
Grohl quizzes Josh on his application of double kicks, they discuss the drum part to new song, Nothing At All (specifically, the reason the hi-hats don’t play on the backbeats, prompting Freese to tip his cap to Charlie Watts).
As a perhaps unintentional clue, Grohl talks about how he came up with the part and demoed it at home, adding weight to the likelihood that it’s Grohl drumming on the album.
But it’s also some of the subtleties that give us insight into why Freese has a CV studded with A-list acts - the changing of a ride cymbal for one song, the confidence and humility to ask arrangement questions before playing Monkey Wrench rather than winging it, knowing where his lane is and how far out of it he can veer.
As much as the water-tight, powerhouse and often startlingly brilliant drumming, Freese’s attitude and approach show why he got the gig.