The rollercoaster of all-star rock & roll was as much a celebration of Dave Grohl’s directorial debut, Sound City, about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio, as it was proof of the film's ethos: the importance of the spontaneous writing and recording of new music and the interactivity between musicians when it is played live, which gives music its human and transcendent qualities and cannot be recreated by computers.
The performance wasn’t perfect, but as Grohl said in more words in his doc, those imperfections are what give music its real rapport, what connects us and them. As each guest took the stage in turn, the performances were progressively more impressive. Each set from the guest either marked a specific memorable era of Sound City recordings or songs written on the famous custom-built Neve 8028 console for the soundtrack to the film, Real to Reel.
The movie itself is essentially two mini-docs; one historic -- the rise and fall of Sound City -- and the other of Grohl jamming out at his home studio with an abundance of musicians who recorded previously at Sound City. Of those musicians, several were notable in the studio’s success: Stevie Nicks, first with Buckingham Nicks and later with Fleetwood Mac, put Sound City on the map; Rick Springfield was the first act to sign to the studio’s record label, and with “Jessie’s Girl” came a surge of popularity and business during the '80s for the studio; and then again, when digital made recording on analog tape less lucrative, the studio struggled until Nirvana recorded Nevermind, which brought an onslaught of ‘90s rock talent there.
I digress. While it wasn’t important to first see the film and know Sound City’s history -- the arc of the studio’s fame and those musicians who were a part of it -- that knowledge made the evening more special. Because, after all, I could list the rundown of musicians and the number of songs they each played -- and I will do a bit of that -- a concert, and its subsequent review, is all about feeling. It was a magical night. Overall, the set was marked by egoless playing, each musician there for the tunes and not to show off their prowess. And maybe that’s the reason the evocative songs had such character, such feeling.
You have to hand it to the Foo Fighters, who learned around 40 songs for the evening and stood in as the backup band for everyone from Lee Ving to John Fogerty, punk rock to Americana. And, of course, Grohl deserves props for playing either drums or guitar, and singing on every single song this evening, and for what Rick Springfield would call Grohl’s childlike love and obsession with music. It was evident.
still from Sound City
The set started about half an hour after the advertised time, which by Sundance standards was early. It began with a lineup of Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age), followed by Chris Goss accompanied by drummer Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine). But the music took a marked turn when punk-rock legend Lee Ving came out to turn up the volume a bit, notably with the classic “I Love Livin’ in the City” and “Your Wife is Calling” off of Real to Reel.
The first mind-blowing band formation came with Rick Neilsen (Cheap Trick) joined by Corey Taylor (Slipknot) and bassist Krist Novoselic (Nirvana). What might seem like a strange brew turned into an exciting -- albeit the sloppiest of the evening -- set, equipped with “Surrender” and “Ain’t That A Shame.” And then out came “Rick Fucking Springfield,” as Grohl introduced him to a round of cheers. With the Foos backing him, Springfield ran through ‘80s hits (and karaoke classics) like “Jessie’s Girl” and “Love Somebody.”
But the parts of the evening that I will always remember, and what makes it one of my Top 10 concerts ever, came next. John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) took the stage -- after another quippy intro by Grohl about Fogerty’s line of Fortunate Son flannel shirts. Fogerty still has chops on the six-string and his voice, gravelly and full of swampy charm, echoed “Bad Moon Rising” and “Born on a Bayou” off of Park City Live’s walls and sent chills down my back.
And then, as if it couldn’t get any better, Stevie Fucking Nicks (the Fucking is me this time) came out to explosive cheers. Grohl played the part of Tom Petty (another icon in Sound City’s history) and dueted on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Nicks. The diva singer then tore hearts wide open with her velvet, smoke-tinged voice when -- and where I about lost it (swoon) -- on “Landside,” which came after Nicks said that she lived in Park City for two years as a kid, which was, in part, inspiration for the hook. To end the set, and in fitting fashion, 11 musicians took the stage to blow out a bombastic take of “Gold Dust Woman.”
All photos taken from Wikipedia Commons.