It's knocking on for midnight in the gravelly backyard of an Austin, Texas, barbecue shack called Stubb's. There are hundreds of people in this crammed performance space, and hundreds more queuing to get in. The breezy spring air is filled with the scent of hotdogs and grilled meats, and the glug-glug-glug of margaritas and beer.
Well, actually, we have to imagine the latter sensory sensation: the noise from the rock band on Stubb's stage is drowning out all other sound. Foo Fighters are nearing the end of a small, low-key 'secret' show on the opening night of South By Southwest (SXSW) 2011, the biggest urban music festival in the world. And for the stadium-selling band led by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, a 100-minute-plus show with the volume cranked all the way up to 11 counts as low-key.
'That was a short gig!' Grohl good-naturedly exclaims of the set, which promotes the band's seventh album, Wasting Light, and Back and Forth, a documentary on their 17-year history that is being premiered at SXSW's companion film festival. 'But that's nothing,' he continues. Grohl points out that the band's secret show at London's Camden Dingwalls earlier this year ran to an eardrum-testing three hours. 'I just can't imagine playing for under two and a half hours any more. We have hundreds of songs to choose from. We have 25 songs — our hits — that we have to play every night. We have 11 new songs that we like playing more than those 25 songs. So, how the f*** do we do that in under two and half hours?' Again, the sturdy, sweary, tattooed 42-year-old grins that big grin.
Who better to launch SXSW's 25th-anniversary event than Foo Fighters? Consisting of Grohl, guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins, the Foos are one of the biggest rock bands in the world. And they are led by a true music legend — with Nirvana and with the band he formed after the suicide of the grunge trio's singer, Kurt Cobain, Grohl has sold 35 million albums. In 2008, Foo Fighters sold out two nights at Wembley Stadium. That's 180,000 tickets.
SXSW, meanwhile, has grown from a small-town music convention into the planet's greatest showcase for up-and-coming bands. Every March, rock'n'roll wannabes, the buzziest groups du jour, media hordes and music-biz tastemakers congregate on Texas' college-town party capital — cowboy country's liberal, groovily creative and proudly laid-back hub.