SXSW 2011 Review: FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
March 18th, 2011

Rating: 4/5

Director: James Moll

Creating a band is not as easy as it looks. Between conflicting personalities, differing musical visions, and the task of making and promoting albums, the process inevitably has some growing pains. Comprised of surprisingly candid interviews from current and former band members to moving concert footage to recent recording sessions, FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH gives a rare glimpse into what it means to create, be in, and sustain a band.

Before the formation of Foo Fighters, front man Dave Grohl had been well-known as the drummer in another band, Nirvana. After the tragic and unexpected death of lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain, the band dissolved and Grohl found himself unable to even consider making music in the wake of his friend’s death. But after a few months, Grohl started to miss the outlet music gave him and found himself back in the studio, recording a demo of five songs without much thought of what would ever become of them. Those five songs became the Foo Fighters' debut album and was the genesis of the next phase in Grohl’s career.

Unlike Nirvana, in Foo Fighters, Grohl took on the role of lead singer and guitarist and went about the task of filling out the other roles of the band. As is the case with many bands, Foo Fighters had a bit of a revolving door mentality as the group tried to find its sound and members that worked well together, not just as friends, but also as musicians. Grohl explained it best when he noted that it is not uncommon for bands to go through this process, their band just happened to do it in the spotlight since (thanks to Grohl’s celebrity) they were on everyone’s radars from day one.

After a few different formations, Foo Fighters main line-up now includes Taylor Hawkins on drums, bassist Nate Mendel, and guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear. Mendel has been with the band from the beginning, while Smear started out with the band (having been in Nirvana with Grohl previously) and then quit, coming back into the fold a few years ago. Despite worry of resentment between Shiflett and Smear when Smear re-joined the group and jealousy over Grohl and Hawkins’ near instant bond, the band preserved and has not only been successful, but continues to push the limits of their genre.

For the band’s fifth release, In Your Honor, they decided to create two CDs, one of stripped down acoustic material and the other of the band’s signature rock. The album got a good response from fans and critics alike and Foo Fighters themselves enjoyed the more stripped down sound as much as their heavier fare. Their follow-up album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, combined these two styles and brought Foo Fighters' sound to a new level.

As the band prepares to record their seventh release, Wasting Light, we follow them into the studio which was created in Grohl’s garage to bring them back to that sound of a time when bands did just record in their garages. To further this idea of getting back to basics, rather than record digitally, the band opts to bring in analog recording equipment. Rarely used any more, this process does not allow for engineers to go back and fix any missed notes or beats, but allows for those slight imperfections to be captured since rock is “supposed to be fucked up” and not perfect.

FOO FIGHTERS focuses solely on the band and we only get a glimpse into the members' lives outside the group when they begin recording at home. One of my favorite moments in the film came when Grohl was recording his guitar part and his daughter comes in to demand he make good on his promise to take her swimming. Still plugged in and recording, Grohl is charming in his handling of the situation, never losing his place in the song or taking his hands off his guitar. He fulfills his promise and is back in the studio directly after, wet hair and all, to complete what he started.

Director James Moll succeeds in creating a film that works to not only give us a closer look at the band, but also packs an emotional punch that takes you through the full circle of human emotions to rival any scripted drama. Watching each member grow both musically and personally, you quickly realize what musicians mean when they liken their band to family. It is hard not to tear up right along with Grohl when he stands on stage to a sold out crowd of 85,000 people at Wembley Stadium and think how far they have come not only as a band, but also as individual members.

Whether you are a fan or not, FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH gives a complete and interesting look at what it really means to be a band and does not shy away from the bad times any more than it highlights the good. A must-see for music fans, the film is a dynamic and rare look behind the scenes of one of the most successful rock groups of the past decade.

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