REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 4 – Austin – “What Did I Do?/God as my Witness”

FOO FIGHTERS – Sonic Highways 4 – Austin – “What Did I Do?/God as my Witness”

Austin.  Classic riffs such as “Smoke on the Water”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Stairway” ring out from the studio hall.  “Just something new I’m working on!” somebody says.  Time to record another new Foo Fighters song in another city.

Austin is a little pocket of “different” in Texas.  Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers is not the kind of guy you expect to come out of Texas.  Willie Nelson, though, seems like a natural.  He returned to Texas from Nashville to become an artist in his own right, and in turn he helped but Austin on the music map.  It was now OK to have long hair, and cowboy boots.

Austin City Limits was their version of Grand Ole Opry.  It was the stage you had to be on.  It was one of the few TV shows that made bands sound good instead of weak and thin.  Artists from all genres have played it.  Though Austin City Limits have since moved to a new facility, the old one is still there, and that’s where Grohl wants to set up and play.

Austin was home to the Moving Sidewalks, which housed Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.  It was also home to the 13th Floor Elevators, adding a psychedelic edge to the music scene.  Roky Erickson of the Elevators invented it, and was behind numerous aggressive spaced-out rock songs.  Townes Van Zandt was another cornerstone of the scene, and Steve Earle went to Austin looking for him.  Jimmie Vaughan formed the Fabulous Thunderbirds there, even though he was told there was no point in forming a blues band.  Stevie Ray came along at age 17 to play with Albert King.  Gary Clark Jr. started out as a kid who started hanging out at Austin City Limits, but could play the blues like devil hisself.

As always, punk came alone.  The Big Boys, the Jesus Lizard, the Butthole Surfers presented an unorthodox but creative front.  These guys listened to both punk and funk, and tried to combine both.  South by Southwest (SXSW) became a critical music festival that gets 10,000 applications from bands a year, to play in only 2300 slots.  The challenge now is that since the scene has grown so much, and got so commercial, how do you keep Austin weird?

Grohl is psyched to find an old piano under a tarp in the studio that had been played by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Tom Waits.  He had to have it on the album.  Indeed, it’s right there at the beginning of the song, which soon transmutates into something more typical for Foo Fighters.  There is a lyrical reference to the “13 floor”, and the urethane wheels of the skateboards that were central to the Austin punk scene.  Regardless, “Where Did I Go?” is pretty stock, coming to life a bit more in the second section, “God as my Witness”.  The structure is not unlike “Layla”, and ends better than it starts.  It’s almost gospel at the end, as if the Nashville carried over into the Austin.  Gary Clark Jr. throws down a great classic rock lead on a Gibson SG.

Episode 4/5 stars

Song 3.5/5 stars



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