In The Beginning: Watch Foo Fighters’ Baby Steps in Previously Unreleased Video

Newly liberated online, this electric March 1995 performance comes ahead of the 25th anniversary of the debut from Dave Grohl’s long-running band

Foo Fighters at Velvet Elvis ’95 (Photo Gillian G. Gaar)

It was Saturday, March 4, 1995, and I was hanging out at home. Then my telephone rang.

It was a freelance photographer I knew, Curt Doughty, giving me a heads up that Dave Grohl’s new band was going to do a “secret” (i.e., previously unannounced) show at all-ages venue the Velvet Elvis, in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. The doors would open at 9 pm, and I made sure I was down there by 8 pm. These days, the word would likely have spread via text and social media, resulting in a flash mob; back then, with only landlines to work with, there were only 50 people ahead of me in line when I arrived at the venue. I was relieved; the theater was small, but I knew I’d get in.

The Velvet Elvis was a theater with a capacity of not much more than 100, previously best known as the theater where the punk musical Angry Housewives had a record-breaking run of several years, more recently hosting rock shows. Every seat was quickly filled, and the overflow routed to the aisles and even the stage, barely leaving any room for the bands. The excitement was palpable. This was the first public Seattle appearance by Grohl since Kurt Cobain’s death the previous year, and anything connected with Nirvana was still big news. Eerily, the night of this show was the one-year anniversary of Cobain’s overdose in Rome, the beginning of the spiral that led to his suicide in April 1994. 

A quarter century on, Foo Fighters regularly fill stadiums (the last time I saw the band in 2018, they drew 60,000-plus for their show at Safeco Field). But Grohl’s always loved the intimacy of a club gig, and a newly uploaded, never before seen video of that first Seattle date reveals how compelling the band was right out of the gate. It was only their fourth show, and their first album was four months away from being released. Copies of an early mix of the album were already circulating on cassette and had been generating plenty of excitement (someone brought a copy to The Rocket magazine offices, where I worked, and we all borrowed it to dub off our own copies). But who knew if that would translate into any kind of lasting success?

 

AUDIO: Foo Fighters “Good Grief” (early mix)

As we now know, it did. Grohl has said that after Cobain’s death he wondered if he even wanted to continue in music. But on reflection, he realized that, “I knew that there was only one thing that I was truly cut out to do and that was music.” And so it proved to be his salvation. By October 1994 he was in the studio, recording the tracks that would make up Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut (basically a solo Grohl album, aside from a Greg Dulli guitar part on “X-Static”). It was the album’s songs that were played at the show. And they were likely the first Grohl compositions anyone had heard; the wistful, dreamy “Marigold” was the only Grohl composition released by Nirvana, a B-side of “Heart-Shaped Box.” He’d also put out a quirky cassette, Pocketwatch, under the name Late! (some of the tracks would be re-recorded with Foos). 

It was also unusual seeing Grohl fronting a band, instead of pounding away on his drums at the back. The patient audience, who’d sat through two bands no one seems to remember (my review of the time described them as “Two nondescript bands who never stated who they were”) were rewarded with a 10 song set of straight-ahead punky pop, dispensing with the melancholic undertow of “grunge” in favor of more upbeat melodicism. Indeed, another line in my contemporaneous review provides the apt description: “hard-edged pop stuffed with a satisfying quota of catchy hooks.” And sure enough, the likes of “I’ll Stick Around,” “For All the Cows,” and “Big Me” would soon be gracing the charts, at home and abroad. Note also that show opened with the elusive “Butterflies,” a track common to a lot of Foos sets in the band’s early years, and recorded in the studio, but never released. 

Photo by Gillian G. Gaar

As for the video, it was shot by Travis Stanley, who attended the show with his friend, Ryan Fox. Stanley filmed they show with his camcorder, only to find that the external microphone he used failed to record audio of the performance. Happily, Fox had recorded the show on a DAT recorder. And a quarter century later, the good folks at FooFightersLive (the unofficial website for all things Foo), stepped in to match the two recordings together. As FooFightersLive points out, this is “the earliest known footage of the band in existence! Previously the first known video came from two months later in May 1995, on the Mike Watt tour.”

It’s a fascinating look at a youthful Foo Fighters (Grohl had just turned 26) taking their first baby steps, smartly choosing smaller scale venues to allow the band the chance to develop at their own pace. 

 

VIDEO: Foo Fighters at Velvet Elvis 3/4/95

 

Setlist: “Butterflies,” “Winnebago,” “Floaty,” “Big Me,” “Wattershed,” “For All The Cows,” “I’ll Stick Around,” “Alone + Easy Target,” “Podunk,” “Exhausted”

 

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Gillian G. Gaar

Seattle-based writer Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel.

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