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Live review: Foo Fighters @ the Pepsi Center

Dave Grohl was in energetic, enthusiastic form as his band Foo Fighters headlined the Pepsi Center on Sunday night. As Grohl skipped acrosss the stage to acknowledge those with the lackluster side-stage seats and later sprinted the length of the long catwalk that lead to a secondary stage near the soundboard, he grinned like a drugged hyena and headbanged like a possessed Muppet.

Grohl is a true rock ’n’ roll treasure, and even if his band has evolved into a mostly bland monolith of modern rock, he’s still one of the coolest figures in music.

 

Grohl is more than what he’s perhaps best known for – as Nirvana’s drummer. He’s a star in his own right, fronting his own band, writing his own FM staples, but he’s also one of the industry’s most avid and well-known fans of quality music. When he finds a new favorite band, he wears their T-shirts and talks about them in Rolling Stone and occasionally drums for them.

And there are few better forms of music marketing in 2011.

If only the Foo Fighters were as vibrant and important. As the band proved again on Sunday night, they’re heroes of modern arena rock – pumping out the same FM-friendly jams that made them all rich but also tarnished the legacy of their first two records.

The band opened its Sunday set in very timely fashion with “Bridge Burning” and “Rope” – the same songs that open the band’s latest album, “Wasting Light,” which came out in April. Fans of the record likely appreciated the tribute, but it wasn’t the most inspired opening. Things didn’t really get kicking until the third song of the night, the 2007 jam “The Pretender,” their best song since 1997’s “The Colour and the Shape.”

“Colour” was the band’s true breakthrough album, a sophomore release that built upon the band’s initial hits (“This is a Call,” “Big Me”) and grew its sound into a more focused brand of modern rock that was created for prime time. And the Foos played plenty of tribute to “Colour,” including an early-set “My Hero” that grew into one of the biggest, most participatory sing-alongs I’ve ever witnessed and a rejuvenated “Monkey Wrench” that was proof of the band’s more modest, down-to-Earth beginnings.

The Foos’ biggest hits represent much of what makes them uninteresting. “Learn to Fly” lacks any and all rock bite. “Times Like These” is empty nostalgia. And “My Hero” is paint-by-numbers rock music hand-crafted for the same masses who don’t admit to missing Bush’s “Everything Zen.”

The band almost makes up for it with the early genius of the understated “Everlong” and the feverish “Breakout,” but it’s not enough. You want Grohl’s originality to help define the band, but right now that’s just not the case.

And maybe that’s part of the problem. It’s so easy to appreciate Grohl’s spirit that you might want to expect more out of the Foo Fighters. Early on in the show, after a gutsy blast of loud-and-friendly rock, Grohl asked the crowd: “Do you guys have to work tomorrow?” The audience responded with an oddly enthusiastic, “Yeah!” Grohl responded the only way he knows how: “Well, that sucks!”

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.

John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.