Maybe it was the brief moment drummer Taylor Hawkins coaxed him into playing a snippet of his famous “Smells Like Teen Spirit” drum intro. (“C’mon man, we’re in Seattle.”) Or earlier when “the old school [expletive]” in the crowd got Tuesday-night active to fizzy ’90s rager “Breakout.” But two-thirds of the way through the Foo Fighters’ opening night wallop at Climate Pledge Arena, Dave Grohl took a short break from playing the rock ‘n’ roll party maestro for a rare sentimental trip down memory lane.
“Just so you guys know … obviously Seattle holds a very special place in my heart,” Grohl said, recalling how 27 years ago this week he and producer pal Barrett Jones holed up in a Richmond Beach studio to make the Foo Fighters’ first record.
For the earnest rock star goofball, who’s not really one to get mushy on stage, it was the equivalent of a three-beer “I love you, man” from an old friend before busting out a stream of audio “remember whens,” as the band ripped through a hefty run of early classics and back-in-the-day deep cuts that seldom crack the band’s hit-parade set lists. A mesmerizing “Aurora,” named for the Seattle thoroughfare Grohl used to take on the way home, soothed after blistering hard-core screamer “Wattershed.”
The nostalgia juices were really flowing with a penultimate “New Way Home,” which grew from whisper to roar during its heart-swelling climax. Hearing the Nirvana history maker repeatedly scream a line about a Seattle stadium that was razed 20 years ago (“I pass boats and the Kingdome”) while christening the ultramodern Climate Pledge Arena felt eerily on the nose. It was the pinnacle of a uniquely Seattle night where the city’s past and present — and the complicated dance between the two — were on full display.
From the second you walk into the glassy atrium and are hit with massive LED walls depicting forest scenes, it’s clear this ain’t the old KeyArena. Breezing through security — with mobile vaxx checks using the CLEAR Health app (though paper vaccination cards are also accepted) — felt like going through TSA PreCheck to get into some Vegas megaclub, given the LED glow. (Without a bag to search, it took this early bird about 90 seconds to get inside.)
Green is the theme at Climate Pledge (the Pledge?) and that’s evident in the touchless everything, lack of single-use plastics and paper ticketing, and the massive plant wall in the concourse touting its sustainability focus.
While arena brass are technically billing Friday’s Coldplay concert as the formal grand opening, as far as Seattle is concerned, last night’s sold-out show was it, as hometown rock heroes Foo Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie played CPA’s first event. (Plus, someone already smoked weed in the bathroom by Din Tai Fung, sullying that new-arena smell.)
Climate Pledge Arena didn’t formally promote the “exclusive,” semiprivate show, which devoted a portion of proceeds to three local charities (including the arena’s nonprofit arm), instead offering tickets to “our partners” and people involved with its construction — and it showed in the higher number of lanyards intermingling with the typical arena-rock crowd. But fans of the bands could buy tickets using special pass codes.
So how does the shiny new joint sound? On first impression, for the most part pretty good by arena standards, at least from a couple of spots I staked out in the lower bowl. But I didn’t make it to the upper level, where arena acoustics are typically the worst. (If you went, let us know in the comments how it sounded from your seats.)
As the poster child for introspective indie rock, Death Cab’s music is inherently less arena-ready than Foo Fighters’ brawny riff rock, but the Seattle luminaries leaned in to some of their sonically bigger tunes to suit their surroundings, starting with the slow-rolling psych storm opening “I Will Possess Your Heart.”
While the tornadic crescendo on a closing “Bixby Canyon Bridge” could have leveled another Seattle stadium, some of frontman Ben Gibbard’s delicate high notes that punctuate his more literary lyrics — which were warm enough to melt glaciers 10 days earlier during an intimate Showbox gig — came off sharper here, at times getting lost in the more cavernous arena setting.
“I gotta admit, I feel a bit awkward playing this next song here,” Gibbard said, introducing “Gold Rush,” a lament of Seattle’s development craze. “I guess if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
For anyone searching, there’s probably a metaphor in hearing the vocals of one of pre-boom Seattle’s most poetic songwriters briefly fight for oxygen in a tech-savvy new arena, during a song about gentrification, no less.
Foo Fighters’ triple-guitar assault and catalog of revved-up anthems had no trouble blasting through the hall, at least from my vantage points. But a silent statement from bassist Nate Mendel, who took the stage wearing a Vera Project T-shirt, rang just as loud. Leaders of the nonprofit all-ages venue, one of Climate Pledge Arena’s Seattle Center neighbors, spoke out last week about a host of construction-related issues they say have hampered their ability to fully reopen from the pandemic shutdown.
Mendel, the Foos’ remaining Washingtonian (and former Sunny Day Real Estate member) has been a supporter of the Vera Project, speaking warmly about the importance of all-ages spaces and his own coming of age in the Seattle punk scene, as part of the nonprofit’s 20th anniversary virtual event last year. (You can put a Seattle punk on an arena stage, but you can’t take the punk rock out of him, evidently.)
With a double bill of totemic hometown bands, the state of the art Climate Pledge Arena (which really is quite stunning) got an unforgettable semi-soft opening that ushered in a new era by reveling in Seattle’s music pedigree — and without shying away from conversations our ever-changing city continues to have. To that end, it was a perfectly Seattle page now in our cultural history book. You can’t ask for much more.