It’s been a few years now, hasn’t it, since Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl added a full-on beard to his Look, and his band’s popularity has only continued to soar. Nevertheless, watching the GRAMMYS last night I remembered an unwritten rule I meant to write down about 10 years ago, while watching another band led by a thickly bearded singer who also wore glasses. I’m going to write it down now, and I urge lead singers the world over to consider this:
A lead singer must ensure that any combination of hair, facial hair, eyeglasses, and makeup does not impede his or her ability to communicate with an audience.
Some singers can communicate through a potentially distracting combination of Facial Expression Barriers (FEBs), but for every Ronnie Van Zandt (scruff beard; long, matted hair; and hat) there are probably a dozen lead singers who keep their audiences at a whisker’s length as they fall into the trap of mixing too many facial accouterments.
For me, Grohl’s beard crosses the line of expressive frontman style. The sweaty mane–beard Look would be cool on Grohl the drummer or Grohl the guest guitarist with another artist, but it gets in the way of his role at the lead vocal mic. “What’s he hiding,” I ask myself, “what might I be missing that may make me better enjoy this song?”
For contrast, check out the above classic press kit shot of Soundgarden at their peak. Singer Chris Cornell restricts himself to a tasteful D’Artagnan, leaving lead guitarist Kim Thayil the heavy lifting of carrying off long hair, a beret, a mountain man beard, and sunglasses. It was not only the music of Led Zeppelin that informed Soundgarden’s best qualities. Clearly they were following the balance set by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page during the band’s most hirsute phase.
It’s bad enough Grohl’s band’s music has no memorable qualities, but I can no longer focus on Grohl as the band’s frontman. All that energy he and his mates put forth is lost in that sweaty mane flopping over his full beard with little more than Dave’s wide nostrils peeking through. Clearly he and his bandmates are doing something right, but trust me: that lead vocal position can’t stand up to all the distractions his hair–beard combo send out. Foo Fighters would be a much more enjoyable band if only Grohl would choose one or the other: the beard or the long, sweaty mane.
The ball’s in your court, brother. You’re welcome.