If Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players truly played its final show Thursday night at South By Southwest, the all-star ensemble certainly went out with a bang.
The nearly three-and-a-half hour epic — presented by Citi with Billboard as media partner — was, like its several predecessors, a jaw-dropping display of breadth, musical passion and genuine camaraderie. But the performance at Stubb’s had a last night of summer camp feel; Grohl and his cohorts were admittedly bittersweet but also tucked enthusiastically into one last chance to enjoy what Grohl referred to as his “life’s greatest gift.” He declared at the outset of the show that the Players would make sure it was “extra long and extra special. Buckle up!” – and the ensemble more than delivered on the promise.
Dave Grohl on the Future of Sound City Players:
“I swear to God I would give my left… arm to do it”
Like Midwestern weather, if you didn’t like what the Players are doing at any point of the show it’s worth sticking around because it would be changing within a half-hour. Alain Johannes’ artful variety gave way to Stevie Nicks’ parade of Fleetwood Mac hits, including a moving “Landslide” and a powerhouse “Gold Dust Woman.” Nicks also won cheers when she said she was so impressed with her first visit to SXSW that she plans to return next year and rent a place for three weeks to hang out.
Master of Reality’s Chris Goss (with Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk on drums) and Fear’s Lee Ving delivered hard-hitting stoner metal and blazing punk, respectively – with Ving announcing that he plans his own move to Austin. Rick Springfield’s pop hits such as “Jesse’s Girl,” “I’ve Done Everything For You” and “Love is Alright Tonight” were infused by the sheer guts of the Foo Fighter’s playing behind him. Cheap Trick’s repertoire, meanwhile, got a muscular makeover as guitarist Rick Nielsen was joined by a veritable supergroup that included hatted Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Foo Fighters Pat Smear and Rami Jaffe, Grohl on drums and Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour singing – with the Foos’ Taylor Hawkins taking lead on “I Want You to Want Me.”
John Fogerty, however, hijacked the show with a galvanizing closing set. Playing with the Foos clearly takes a few decades off Fogerty, who moved, played and sang like a Creedence Clearwater Revival-era version of himself on charged versions of “Travelin’ Band” and “Born on the Bayou,” buoyant romps through “Centerfield,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Proud Marry,” a fierce “Keep On Chooglin’ ” and a near-metallic rendition of “Fortunate Son.”
The show also featured performances of songs the assorted musicians recorded for the companion album to Grohl’s “Sound City: Real to Reel” documentary that was part of the South By Southwest film festival. Nick’s poignant “You Can’t Fix This” and Springfield’s “The Man That Never Was” went over particularly well, and while “Cut Me Some Slack” was conspicuous by its absence. South By Southwesters used to surprises were certainly hoping Paul McCartney might make a drop-in for this occasion.
The Players’ last night together also showcased the genuine camaraderie the musicians developed during their short time together. Grohl’s introductions were redefined the term effusive — he actually declared that “I want to be Rick Springfield. Please Rick? Please?” at one point — while the other Players tripped over themselves praising their leader. Grohl pointedly burped into the microphone when Goss called him “a genius” and “a national treasure,” but you could see the pride in Grohl’s face as Nicks, Springfield, Taylor and Fogerty sang his praises.
We can, of course, hope the Players will find a way to play together again; Grohl told Billboard that he’d be willing to have the troupe play next year’s Oscar party. But if Thursday’s gig is to be the final hurrah, it’s hard to imagine going out on a higher note.