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Dave Grohl proves himself to be the king of arena rockers

Dave Grohl performs with his band the Foo Fighters to a packed Air Canada Centre in Toronto on July 9, 2011.

jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

In 2008, the toothsome Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl launched a larky run for the U.S. presidency. It was just a stunt, predicated on the rocker's chumminess, not his fiscal policy. Three years later, though, Grohl and Foo Fighters are on a campaign that is real: The bid to save rock 'n' roll, formerly a dominant genre but now feeble. Alice Cooper once sang that "kids want a saviour, don't need a fake." In 2011, is Grohl up to the job?

A bid declared

It isn't yet dark outside when the concert begins strongly with Bridge Burning and Rope, the opening tracks to Foo Fighters' seventh (and latest) album, Wasting Light, the band's successful, loud return to a stripped-down, straight-ahead form of muscle and melody. Pummelling drums announce Bridge Burning, a tightly riffed rocker about the "king of second chances," with a tension-releasing chorus straight from the playbook of Queens of the Stone Age. My Hero finds Grohl running the length of a low catwalk to a smaller centre stage. A crowd sings along: "There goes my hero, watch him as he goes."

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War chest

A massive, old-school promotional campaign launched Wasting Light – all the bells, tricks and whistles of old media were employed. The major-label release made its debut at No. 1 in 12 countries (including Canada), doubling the six international No. 1s scored by its musically ambitious predecessor, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, in 2007. Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer, is a rock star. And he is a rich one.

Religious, right?

"Run and tell all the angels," Grohl sings, his voice ragged from use, "because this could take all night." All night, as in 150 minutes, the manly but emotional concert's eventual length. The fluid, catchy Learn to Fly from 1999 is tough, thoughtful and tuneful, with a euphoric chorus – "looking for the sky to save me" – sung by a songwriter who dangles, we see on the video screens over the stage, a cross of Jesus from his neck.

Pressing the flesh

Grohl supporters wear their merchandise-table purchases proudly and have fond memories of the 1990s. They hear a stump speech during the encore, which has Grohl speaking to his "Foo Fighters people" and claiming that his lost voice has "magically" come back, allowing him to winningly perform solo acoustic versions of Wheels and Best of You – the song of the night, hands down. He rejoins the band on the main stage during Times Like These for the Who's variation of Mose Allison's Young Man Blues and the churning finale Everlong.

The Results

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Foo Fighters recently played a festival gig and a club show in Chicago, but Grohl's office is oval. With about 18,000 votes reporting, we can proclaim him the king of arena rock, an office high in so many respects. Were his fans better off than they were before the concert began? Yes they were; their chief was commanding.

Foo Fighters

  • At Air Canada Centre
  • In Toronto, on Tuesday

After a concert at Montreal's Bell Centre on Wednesday, Foo Fighters' Canadian tour continues with dates in Vancouver (Oct. 25), Calgary (Oct. 27) and Edmonton (Oct. 28).

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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