Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (Review)

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The Foo Fighters weren’t always one of the biggest bands in the world.  In fact, they originally weren’t even a band.  What became the first Foo Fighters album was actually just Dave Grohl.  Dave on drums, Dave on guitar, Dave on bass and Dave singing.

And as Grohl formed a band and started touring, he didn’t have things all his own way.  Foo Fighters first appeared in 1995, just over a year after the death of Kurt Cobain, and Grohl wasn’t Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, he was ‘that guy from Nirvana with his new band’.

Back And Forth is a documentary charting the life of Foo Fighters from their difficult beginnings and multiple line-up changes, up to this year and the release of their 7th studio album, Wasting Light.  It features interviews with every band member past and present, but unsurprisingly most of the film is given over to Grohl.

After Kurt Cobain’s death, Grohl was unsure of what to do with himself.  He finally decided to start recording some tracks he’d written while he was in Nirvana.  At the same time, he made an appearance drumming for Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers on Saturday Night Live.  He was then offered the chance to join Petty’s touring band, but ultimately chose to fully record and release what would become the Foo Fighters debut album.

Grohl signed to Capitol Records, and then had to find himself a band.  First he recruited guitarist Pat Smear, who had played live with Nirvana (he performed with the band for their MTV Unplugged show), then took advantage of Californian band Sunny Day Real Estate splitting up to complete the line up with drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel.

As the band start touring, the original members discuss their frustrations about the way the band was received.  They are bombarded with questions about Nirvana, Grohl reveals he was criticised for aping Nirvana’s sound, and how he was asked in almost every interview ‘Is this song about Kurt?’

The first Foo Fighters album sold well, and the band entered the studios to begin work on a second album in the summer of 1996.  Dave Grohl is widely believed to be one of the nicest guys in rock, but the way William Goldsmith was removed from the band contradicts this somewhat.  Grohl became frustrated with Goldsmith’s ability to get the drumming right on the tracks that would ultimately make up The Colour And The Shape, and eventually he called Smear and Mendel for new recording sessions, without Goldsmith.  Goldsmith heard about the new sessions, but was told by Grohl not to turn up, and inevitably, he left the band.

Back And Forth features other examples of Grohl making decisions about the band’s line up without consulting the band themselves.  Pat Smear decided to leave the band after the record of the second album, and Grohl recruited former Scream band-mate Franz Stahl to play guitar.  But Stahl didn’t stay long, and was fired from the band during the recording of the band’s third album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose.  They continued as a three piece until Chris Shiflett joined the band following open auditions.  In 2009, Pat Smear re-joined the band as they toured to support their Skin And Bones acoustic album, and eventually re-joined the band permanently.  In the documentary, Shiflett claims Grohl never spoke to him about Smear’s return (although Shiflett admits he gets on well with Smear).

These revelations aside, there is little to draw non-Foo Fighter fans to Back And Forth.  Although there is unseen and rare footage of the band, most of the interview content is a little dry.  Drummer Taylor Hawkins’ 2001 overdose is somewhat glossed over, and there is little time given to the inter-band tension that almost caused the band to split in 2002 (when Grohl had been drumming with Queens Of The Stone Age).

The film ends as the band record their latest album, Wasting Light, in Grohl’s garage.  This section of the film is the most light-hearted, as it shows the band in a relaxed state.  There’s a Nirvana reunion when bass player Krist Novoselic arrives to guest on a track, re-uniting himself with Grohl and Smear, as well as Butch Vig, who produced Nevermind.

Back And Forth is a film that most Foo Fighters fans will enjoy, but there’s little to reward repeat viewings.  Aside from footage from recent recording sessions, there’s not much new in the content of the movie.  Grohl’s handling of line-up changes does show a different side to his character, but Back And Forth won’t change the way fans feel about the band, or attract new fans to their music.

David Dougan.

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  • Gary Redrup

    Have to say Grohl didn’t come off too well from this Film, he appears quite insecure and unwilling to let others be a real part of “The Band”. That said the film is a great insight into how Albums get made and they all seem much more together as a five piece than ever before.