Sound City Players: Opposites Attract (And Don’t) in New York
Stevie Nicks. John Fogerty. Fear’s Lee Ving. Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. Rick Springfield. It’s hard to imagine those people having much of anything in common beyond a) being musicians of a certain age, b) having recorded at L.A.’s legendary, now-shuttered Sound City studio and c) being friends with Dave Grohl.
Elements “b” and “c” are what brought the above and several other musicians to stages in Park City, Utah and Los Angeles over the past month, and Wednesday night saw the unlikely gang of musicians take the stage at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. In his inimitable ringleader fashion, Grohl has used “Sound City: Real to Reel” -- the documentary he recently released about the famously dumpy studio where dozens of classic albums, ranging from Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” to Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” were made -- as a catalyst to continue an ongoing real-life Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp that has seen him performing with Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and others over the past few years. He rallied several of the musicians he interviewed in the film, assembled the Foo Fighters and some auxiliary Queens of the Stone Age members to join him as the house band, and off they went on a jaunt through some far-flung corners of Grohl’s teenage record collection (and presumably that of this evening’s predominantly middle-aged crowd). It’s probably safe to say no other person on Earth could have united these musicians… or, at least, would have wanted to. Like the film is his tribute to the studio, these concerts are his self-financed tribute to them -- there was very little Dave Grohl-written music in the show
DAVE + BILLBOARD
“It’s gonna be a long f---in’ night – you know that, right?” Grohl roared one song into the nearly three-and-a-half-hour long show, which occasionally featured clips from the film in the brief gaps between the 4-to-6-song sets. It’s a testament to his fans’ affection and trust that they enthusiastically waited a good 90 minutes before hearing a single song that most of them knew. While Grohl was onstage for the entire night, headbanging enthusiastically whether playing guitar, bass or (too briefly) drums, the first part of the show featured a brace of obscure songs (from the film, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures and Masters of Reality) sung by QOTSA’s collaborators Alain Johannes and Chris Goss. Rage Against the Machine drummer Zack Wilk played drums for the latter part of the set; like a pumped-up high school teacher, Grohl explained to the crowd just how legendary these generally unknown musicians are.
A short set of songs by Fear -- the legendary late ‘70s L.A. punk act beloved by John Belushi -- bellowed by Ving followed. While the presence of Foo Fighter Pat Smear -- who was asked to join Nirvana purely because he’d been in L.A. punk icons the Germs -- brought some old-school authenticity to the songs, the band, who were completely on point for the rest of the night, just wasn’t right. Punk is rock at its most basic; Taylor Hawkins -- a world-class rock drummer -- brought too much flair, and three guitarists is way too many for that sound.
The Cheap Trick set brought a needed lift to the show. Grohl moved behind the drums, Krist Novoselic stepped in on bass, Hawkins took the mic, and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen teamed with Grohl to power a bracing set of “Hello There,” “Stiff Competition,” “I Want You to Want Me,” “Ain’t That a Shame” and, of course, “Surrender.” Nielsen bounded from one end of the stage to the other; Grohl’s drumming was stellar throughout – he kicked off “Ain’t That a Shame” with a riveting tribal rhythm that was a highlight of the show. And while Hawkins was no Robin Zander (shirtless, he looked more like Brad Pitt in “True Romance”), he passed muster, and brought a nice tribute to “Surrender” by replacing the Kiss records mentioned in the lyric with Cheap Trick records.
Rick Springfield, the odd man out in this very odd lineup, was up next, finishing, inevitably, with “Jessie’s Girl.”
John Fogerty stepped onstage, backed by the Foo Fighters, and jolted the crowd back to life with a blazing version of the Creedence hit “Travelling Band.” They were well-rehearsed -- the Foos backed him for a version of the song on his forthcoming album, “Wrote a Song for Everyone” -- and unlike the Fear set, the band’s classic-rock approach fit his songs like a glove. They tore through “Born on the Bayou,” “Centerfield,” “Keep on Chooglin’”, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Proud Mary,” with Fogerty clearly having the time of his life. "I'm up here playin’ with the f---in’ Foo Fighters!” he yelled in the middle of the set. "I especially love playing with this guy, who's having such a great time playing rock and roll. Dave Grohl, he's like a little kid!”
Finally Stevie Nicks took the stage and the band kicked back into gear on a rousing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with Grohl playing Tom Petty’s part. After the song ended, Nicks told a harrowing story about how her godson had died of an overdose. “I wrote a poem about it, because that’s what I do.” Days later, Grohl called her about the film and eventually asked if she wanted to do a song together. She sent him the poem and said, “’Knowing our history, do you want to go there with me?’ He said, ‘I’m with you, babe.’” The mid-tempo, intense song is called “You Can’t Fix This” and is featured on the “Sound City” 11-track companion album, out next month.
The band eased into a fluid “Dreams” -- complete with Nicks’ signature hand gestures and some horrifying hippie dancing from some women in the crowd -- then a lovely version of “Landslide,” with Nicks recalling writing the song by herself in the house of a person she didn’t know in Colorado in 1973, accompanied here by Grohl on 12-string acoustic.
Squalling feedback morphed into a majestic, drawn-out version of “Gold Dust Woman,” and then the long night was through. There was no encore -- which isn’t really a surprise when you try to imagine what songs that motley crew might have played together. In fact, it’s probably a good thing these shows are so far-flung. What might life on that tour bus be like?