Skin And Bones (2006)
A year after the release of In Your Honor, Foo Fighters embarked on a short acoustic tour to more specifically support the second half of that album. Skin And Bones, the band’s first live album, is a compilation of performances taken from a three night run in Los Angeles.
The name, derived from the acoustic b-side to the electric single “DOA” that was also later collected on the EP Five Songs & A Cover, is obvious while also being a bit of a misnomer. Sure, compared to their typical live show — really, really big guitars and drums, and Grohl’s tendency to scream a lot — this would theoretically be a moment to strip back and show the emotional core of the band, to let everyone indulge a side that was, bereft of the protection that comes with distortion echoing through an arena, more instrumentally and emotionally vulnerable. The problem with that is two-fold. By featuring an expanded lineup comprised of violinist Petra Haden, The Wallflowers’ Rami Jaffe on keys, Pat Smear adding some extra guitar, and percussionist Drew Hester, this was actually the most expansive and nuanced sound the band had constructed up until that point. The other thing is that this tour was less about stripping down and rearranging classic Foo Fighters songs to show their inner workings and meanings, but to rather faithfully recreate the acoustic material from In Your Honor.
Not that any of that is really that much of an issue, but it does point to how the whole affair of Skin And Bones takes the Foo Fighters into territory they don’t seem entirely sure on how to navigate. What has always seemed odd about this phase of Foo Fighters history is an almost willingness to call up the ghosts of Nirvana when one would imagine they’d be most unwelcome. Grohl was of course involved in Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged recording, the gold standard of a rock band going bare instrumentally to show a different side and some serious personal vulnerability. A centerpiece of both the In Your Honor acoustic disc and these shows was “Friend of a Friend,” a song Grohl supposedly wrote during his time in Nirvana, and might be about watching Cobain and his struggle with addiction. Foo Fighters also began performing “Marigold,” a Nirvana song Grohl had sung, but that had never been officially released until years after Cobain’s death. Fans used to call out for him to perform it at the earliest Foo Fighters shows — calls which he reportedly ignored.
It’s a weird spot to put themselves in. Foo Fighters have largely succeeded in moving well beyond the long shadow of Grohl’s previous band. On one hand, maybe this would be the exact forum in which to revisit the pains of the past. Fair enough, but Skin And Bones, despite its title’s conceit, never gets at the sort of rawness it would seem to promise. None of the old songs are too heavily re-imagined, with “Best of You” in particular being played exactly the same, just with a solo acoustic guitar. It’s not that some aggrieved, ragged acoustic performance is really what you’d expect or even want from the Foo Fighters, but there’s something about Skin And Bones that wants to be insular and bare, and it never quite gets to that point. There is a lot worth listening to here, but there are also moments that are a bit too safe and coffeehouse-ready, which keeps Skin And Bones from becoming as revelatory as it seems to want.